Emphasize science, math in Texas schools
The key is having more teachers who actually majored in math and science. … (If not), you may stay a day ahead of the students, but you can’t make a student’s eyes light up.
I was a high school student, there were still nine planets. Only Dick Tracy in the Sunday comic strips had a mobile phone. And the career options in Texas for young people were the same as they had been for years: doctor, lawyer, nurse, electrician, autoworker, teacher, fireman, policeman.
Today, Pluto as a planet has been booted from the solar system and most of the world has a mobile phone, which in some cases can talk back. The new career options are stunning: robotics engineer, ocean energy engineer, fuel cell engineer, aerospace engineer, biochemist, naval architect, environmental geriatrician, agronomist, zoologist, renewable energy engineer, immunologist, neuroscientist, marine biologist, hydrologist, environmental engineer and climatologist. Those are not only the kinds of exciting jobs open to young people today; they are the higher-paying jobs of the future.
But our Texas school system has not kept pace with the changes. We now live in a world propelled by high-tech innovation in everything from communications to medicine to energy exploration. Our schools must move faster to modernize their approach. They need to emphasize the courses that will give young people the necessary skills science, technology, engineering and math — what’s known as the STEM fields. Even to be a successful electrician or auto mechanic today, you need a stronger background in math and science.
The hard truth is that to compete with the rest of the world for quality jobs and profits, our workforce will need more than a high school education. Yet results from the ACT testing service this summer showed that the majority of Texas students who took the ACT this year lacked the skills to pass introductory college courses in math, reading and science. Only 48 percent are prepared to pass college-level math courses and only 43 percent were ready for college science studies.
The prognosis was even worse for minority students — just 9 percent of black students and 13 percent of Hispanic students were ready for introductory science courses.
Yet there is some encouraging news:
■ Thanks to efforts like Advance Placement Strategies, more Texas students are succeeding in the rigorous, college-level courses. APS recently announced that the 66 Texas schools participating in its advanced placement sup- port program had a 23 percent increase in qualifying scores in AP math, science and English last year — four times the rest of the state. This program has proved particularly effective in raising minority AP scores. That’s important because students who can master the AP material are three times as likely to earn a college degree.
■ The U Teach program that started at the University of Texas at Austin is being replicated in 33 universities across the country, including eight in Texas. Those Texas universities are on track to produce thousands more math and science teachers in the next few years, which means there will be more qualified teachers inspiring students in Texas classrooms.
The key is having more teachers who actually majored in math and science. They need to know the subject thoroughly. And they need to be trained to involve students in hands-on learning. If you don’t know math and science, you can’t teach math and science. You may stay a day ahead of the students, but you can’t make a student’s eyes light up.
Texas owes a debt to retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for being a driving force behind both of those programs and for creating the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas to foster a community of the best and brightest in our state. These programs are a generational legacy for our state — and a challenge for other leaders to not only stay the course, but pick up the pace.
We know this: Our country faces tough challenges. They can only be solved with new ideas that are rooted in science, technology, engineering and math education. We can help answer the need right here in Texas with more educated workers.