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.

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - Luce, chair­man of the board of the Na­tional Math and Sci­ence Ini­tia­tive, will be key­note speaker at the up­com­ing con­fer­ence of The Academy of Medicine, En­gi­neer­ing and Sci­ence of Texas


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.

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