In my 23 years in K-12 education in Missouri, I’ve seen plenty of change, for good and bad. One of the areas where change is overdue is in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – education.
These subjects are critical to preparing students for a digital economy. Yet recent international studies show U.S. students continue to lag behind their international counterparts in the STEM fields.
I was a teacher, principal, and superintendent before becoming the chancellor of WGU Missouri, so I see real opportunity to modernize STEM teaching. As STEM subjects become more central to our workforce, we need teachers to give students a strong science and math foundation. Teachers who have completed graduate school have a stronger handle on these skills and the best ways to teach them.
Students often question, “When will I ever use math again after high school?” The fact is, if you have a good understanding of math and science, you will see math everywhere. Math and science explain how our world fits together, and knowledge of these subjects makes you more capable of seeing connections and solving problems.
President Obama has just announced a new $35 million initiative by the Department of Education to create more math and science teachers. The reason is clear: Passionate teachers who have a deep understanding of the subject matter are better at inspiring students to learn, and more effective at helping struggling students.
The new Common Core expectations for students include deeper math and science understandings. Our children can benefit from math instruction that doesn’t just ask students to apply rote formulas without an understanding of mathematical concepts. Skilled teachers can show students not just how to solve a problem, but give them the understanding of why that technique provides the correct solution.
More and more, schools are seeking teachers with targeted master’s degrees, including in STEM education. An advanced degree doesn’t necessarily create a talented teacher. But it can transform a good teacher into a great one. Studies have shown that high school classes tend to have higher student achievement in math or science when the teacher holds an advanced degree in that subject.
Targeted master’s degree programs for teachers are still few and far between, but the demand is growing. Old teaching methods don’t engage students and give them a thirst for learning. We have to find ways to reach students who think math and science are uninteresting or too difficult to learn.
Teachers with master’s degrees in the STEM fields are far better equipped to guide students to success. We should encourage our schools to invest in their teachers, and our teachers to pursue advanced education. Our children will reap the benefits for years to come.