Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education (STEM) and Career and Technical Education (CTE) Research

A good place to start in any analysis of STEM issues is with the future demand for workers with STEM skills. We’ve seen two excellent reports on this issue -- one from the Congressional Research Service, and the other from Georgetown University. There is also this report, which details the longer time it takes for employers to fill STEM related job openings in different cities around the United States. Here is a 2015 overview of the shortage of STEM workers in manufacturing in the U.S, here is one about the intersection of science with 21st century skills, and here is an extensive report from Pew on the future of work.

To balance these reports, you should also read this contrary view, which claims the STEM worker shortage is a myth (it also has a great list of references).

In Colorado, an August 2014 report termed STEM "vital to the state's economic future" and proposed a roadmap for improving outcomes. The story on this initiative is here, and the roadmap is here.

One of the fundamental issues with STEM is the struggle to define just what it means. The "S" and "M" parts are the easiest to grasp, as they correspond to our current science and math curricula, which provide the foundation for the "E" and "T". Engineering is also quite easy to describe, as it entails the application of math and science principles to solve practical problems. So far, so good. But what is "Technology" all about? Too often we find it confused with "Information Technology", which leads to recommendations for courses in coding, data science, and modeling, for example. While well-intentioned, we believe these suggestions are far too narrow, and what is needed is a broader understanding of what technology is, how it evolves, and the central role it plays in our economy (and thus, indirectly, in our politics as well). The best book we’ve seen that examines these issues is Brian Arthur's The Nature of Technology. Here is a link to the Amazon page for this book.

There has been no shortage of reports in recent years about issues in STEM education. Here are some of the best ones we’ve read:

At the implementation level, there are also a number of excellent reports available, including:

For parents trying to decide whether to send their children to the district's new STEM schools, The Jefferson Association for Gifted Children has produced this guide

Career and Technical Education, or CTE, has a significant overlap with STEM. For example, here is a very encouraging report from California about the high returns from better Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. And here is another excellent report from the Center for Public Education on the benefits of improving CTE. Finally, here is an excellent report about how the development of clear career pathways for students, improved CTE offerings, competency based education, and the definition of recognition of certified competencies can interact to produce non-linear improvements in outcomes for students.

In the past few months, CTE has received much more attention. Why? Because there is a growing gap in the United States between the workforce skills employers need, and the skills our students have when they leave school. See, for example, this National Academy of Science report on Building A Skilled Workforce in the USA. Here is a closely related paper from Georgetown University, on building career pathways.

A Wall Street Journal columnist recently took a close look at new CTE programs, as did a writer from City Journal.
Marc Tucker has also written two excellent pieces on new approaches to CTE, which you can read here and here.

Here is a short overview of new career apprenticeship initiatives, such as those created by DPS CareerConnect (where Joe Saboe has created a powerhouse program in a very short period of time) and CareerWise Colorado.

Stanford’s Eric Hanushek and his colleagues raise an important caution about CTE programs in this new paper. They find that in the case of Germany, vocational programs have produced skilled graduates who could quickly get jobs in industry, but in a fast changing economy also found that those skills eventually became obsolete. The clear implication is that successful CTE programs must include generalist knowledge and skills, as well as a lifetime learning component that enables employees to continue to develop new certified competencies. That is essentially the argument that is also made in this column.