Chris Roe, CEO of California STEM Learning Network (CSLNet) shares with Getting Smart how the state saved science funding for new initiatives in STEM, Common Core State Standards, teacher preparation, and more.

GS: After the vote to preserve high school science funding in California, what are some of CSLNet’s highest priorities?

CR: CSLNet has identified five areas as its highest priorities:

Adopt and Implement Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Math Standards. CSLNet is urging California’s policymakers to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, which are being developed by a coalition of 26 states, including California. These new standards include a greater emphasis on the practices and major concepts in science as well as engineering. They are also designed to align with Common Core Math and English Language Arts Standards, as well as expectations for what it takes for students to be college and career-ready in these subjects.

Reform Teacher Preparation.  The implementation of Common Core State Standards and the expected adoption of Next Generation Science Standards underscore the need for serious and systematic reform of teacher preparation and support systems to foster improved teaching. CSLNet supports policies that will transform the training of new teachers and support systems for existing teachers so that they have the knowledge and skills needed to successfully implement Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards in their classroom. We also support efforts to leverage these new standards as a means to strengthen programming during afterschool and other learning environments. 

Revise Accountability Systems. We believe that state and federal accountability systems need to be changed to place greater weight on science, engineering and technology. At the K-12 level, CSLNet supports measures to broaden the state and federal accountability systems in order to ensure students have access to high quality science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education offerings, which are often squeezed out of the curriculum due to a narrow accountability focus. CSLNet also supports policies that will help attract and retain students in undergraduate STEM majors. Currently, many qualified students that start in STEM majors choose to transfer out, for a host of reasons.

Advocate for Strengthened Public-Private Partnerships and Alignment of Resources. Given the state’s resource constraints, California must do a better job to coordinate and align public and private resources with local, regional and state economic and workforce development needs, and develop models that catalyze business-education partnerships.

Ensure All California Students Have Access to High-Quality STEM in Out-Of-School Time. CSLNet is urging support for STEM learning and career exploration in informal and out-of-school time settings, and for stronger connections with in-school teaching and learning. We have a terrific opportunity to engage and inspire students during afterschool and summertime, and need to take full advantage of this under-utilized opportunity.

GS: What helped “save science” in California? Why didn’t the Governor’s proposal to cut science succeed?  What factors account for the success of California maintaining high school science funding?

CR: CSLNet helped lead a campaign that built awareness about this issue and why it was so critical to preserve funding for the second year of high school science. In a state with nearly two open jobs in science, technology and engineering fields for every qualified candidate, California could not afford to tell its students that science is not important to their future.  Together, the coalition of leaders who came together, including business and industry, were able to help convince the legislature that California could not afford to be the sole state in the country that required only one year of high school science to graduate.

After the legislature preserved the funding, the Governor did not have many options to strike it from the final approved budget. Going forward, in order to maintain critical offerings such as science, the state will need to restore funding for education; we cannot afford to continue to disinvest in our children or our state’s future.

GS: What does this victory mean for high school STEM education in California?

CR: Essentially, it preserves the status quo – which still puts CA as among only a handful of states that require just two years of high school science to graduate. We are among the lowest-performing states in science today; if we are to prepare tomorrow’s innovators and citizens for a STEM-centric world, we must push to provide more opportunities for all of our students to pursue STEM and to be leaders in these fields. 

GS: Why is STEM education such a critical issue right now?

CR: Today, there are currently almost two open jobs in STEM fields for every qualified job seeker, even though in all fields, it is the reverse but worse — there are nearly five job seekers for every open job. Companies here in California are engaging in fierce battles to recruit qualified workers, and are forced to go overseas to fill open jobs.

Looking ahead, jobs in these fields are expected to grow at a rate twice as fast as other fields. Our education system must respond to this reality; all students need to be prepared in these fields, whether this will be their occupation, or simply to be an informed and engaged citizen. 

GS: What are CSLNet’s next steps towards improving the future of STEM education?

CR: We are actively working to support implementation of Common Core Math and the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, which together will provide a high-quality, comprehensive STEM education for all students.

We are also working to ensure students have access to high-quality STEM learning opportunities and career exposure during out-of-school time, through The Power of Discovery: STEM2, a collaboration with the California Afterschool Network, the Department of Education and other partners. In order to accomplish this, we need to focus our attention on the recruitment and training of new teachers, as well as providing greater support to existing teachers.

Finally, we are working hard to help build the capacity of the state to support high quality STEM education by partnering with regional and national networks of STEM champions, who are actively sharing learnings and tools that will help scale and sustain STEM education. 

GS: What is the biggest challenge currently facing CSLNet?

CR: I believe that our biggest challenge, in addition to the dire financial situation facing schools, is that all parents and employers need to understand what is at stake for our state and the future generation – that our students need access to a high quality STEM education to ensure they are competitive in the global economy, one that is underpinned by science, technology, engineering and math.

We also need to get better at building and sustaining public-private partnerships that can create a common agenda and momentum that can drive the systemic change. Partnerships that succeed require careful care and feeding.

GS: What do you predict for the future of STEM education in general?

CR: While there are huge hurdles in front of us, we have a golden opportunity to provide every student in California, and nationally, with a high quality STEM education, though the implementation of Common Core Math and the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards. Together, these will provide a high-quality, comprehensive STEM education for all students.

We are fortunate to have business and industry partners and non-profits with the resources, expertise and perhaps most importantly – the willingness – to support the changes needed to ensure all students are STEM-capable.

Photo courtesy of BigStock.

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