Judging from the news it may seem that politicians in the United States dedicate themselves exclusively to political infighting. But one area where there is an opportunity to avoid political gridlock is education. This fall offers a last opportunity for the current Congress to rewrite the country’s major education legislation, known as No Child left Behind. One of the most interesting pieces of legislation that could be included in the rewrite is a proposal by Senator Al Franken to establish a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Master Teacher Corps. The crisis in STEM education has been well-documented in the United States. Bipartisan national reports compare it to a gathering storm and a rapidly approaching category 5 hurricane that will erode the country’s global leadership in science and engineering.
I agree, but the proposed legislation is highly relevant well beyond the United States.
In Latin America, learning levels at the primary and secondary levels, together with occupation trends, present a serious challenge. The labor market demands knowledge-workers with skills that enable them to work productively in STEM industries, yet most students leave the education system lacking even basic math and science skills. It is a safe bet that the lack of learning, at least in part, results from the high proportions of STEM teachers who are teaching out of their field or who are underprepared. Perhaps some of the solutions proposed by Senator Franken could inspire other countries in the hemisphere to take similar steps.
The Master Teacher Corps Act would boost teacher pay for the top 5% of K-12 STEM teachers. The pay increase aims to help keep the best STEM teachers from leaving the teaching profession for more lucrative jobs in the private sector, a problem that the United States shares with many Latin American countries.
The top STEM teachers would in turn serve as role models and mentor other STEM teachers, including beginners. They would also network within the STEM education community to share successful pedagogical practices and resources. These teachers would be placed in schools with the most serious STEM learning problems, schools that traditionally face greater challenges in recruiting and retaining good teachers in any subject, particularly the STEM areas.
If passed, the proposed package of measures has the potential to create a larger cadre of talented and inspirational STEM teachers who can prepare students for a world that increasingly demands STEM skills for work and life.