Students Need STEM Education for 21st Century Economy

High school seniors are gearing up for college admissions. Hundreds of thousands just took the SAT. Many more will soon sit for the ACT. Applications for early admission are due this month.

Yet at graduation in June, many high school seniors will find themselves unprepared for college and the workforce.

Young Americans lag behind their foreign peers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math. That’s bad news for our nation’s future, since STEM jobs are among the fastest growing and highest paying in the country.

Efforts to improve STEM education have focused largely on changing what and how we teach students at school. But kids spend just seven hours each day – and 180 days each year – in the classroom on average.

To truly prepare young Americans for tomorrow’s economy, our nation’s policymakers and civic leaders must look beyond the classroom – and support programs that ignite students’ passion for learning during “off” hours.

Less than 50 percent of U.S. high school graduates are prepared for college-level math. Barely 1 in 3 is ready for college-level science. When compared to students in 33 other industrialized countries, America ranks 27th in math and 20th in science.

Math and science education can be especially difficult for students in military families. The average child of a military family attends six to nine different schools, and each move means adjusting to a new set of curricula, academic requirements and learning standards. What’s more, these students face many unique challenges – like a parent’s deployment – that can affect school performance.

Poor academic achievement in the STEM subjects has significant ramifications for the economy.

More than ever, employers are demanding workers with substantial math and science skills. According to a recent poll of U.S. CEOs, employers will need 1.6 million new STEM employees by 2019.

The growing demand for such workers is good news for them and for the economy, as these jobs pay well. In 2013, the average STEM occupation paid about $80,000 annually. That’s roughly 1.7 times the average yearly U.S. wage.

If STEM education were improved, American students could fill these jobs and jumpstart our economy. In fact, if America’s performance in math and science simply matched the average for 33 other developed nations, GDP would increase by an additional 1.7 percent by 2050.

To capture that growth, the United States needs to rethink not just how it teaches STEM but when.

Over the course of a full year, including weekends and summer break, students spend 8 out of 10 of their waking hours outside school. Education shouldn’t end when the school day does.

Research supports this notion. Studies show that high-quality after-school programs can increase student motivation, improve math and reading achievement, and lead to significant gains in standardized test scores.

That’s why Raytheon has partnered with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to expand after-school programs in communities with high densities of military families. At our “STEM Centers of Innovation,” we’ll take STEM off the chalkboard and connect it to the real world. The program will link participants with industry experts who have practical experience and can lead students in hands-on, technology-based activities. These centers will also serve as vital community anchors, providing a consistent forum for learning and fun.

To read the rest of this article, published in US World and News Report, please click here.