New governor needs to be the nation’s first STEM education governor

October 30, 2012 

The next governor of Washington will have a unique opportunity to remake our state’s education system, and with it, the futures of generations of young Washingtonians.

Whether Republican Rob McKenna or Democrat Jay Inslee wins next month, the new governor must lead the way in preparing our students for bright futures and good jobs by focusing on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

Washington ranks No. 1 in the concentration of STEM jobs in the U.S. We are home to world-renowned employers in aerospace, technology, health care, energy and manufacturing. STEM jobs are growing faster and pay better than non-STEM jobs.

Furthermore, skills fostered by STEM subjects – the ability to solve real-world problems, analyze data and design new solutions – are increasingly in demand at every level and sector of the economy.

Sadly, we are not preparing Washington’s next generation – particularly students of color and students from low-income communities – to secure jobs in our state.

Washington has broad and persistent achievement gaps and lackluster performance on national tests, especially compared with similar states. We spend $93 million each year on remedial math education to teach college freshmen things they should have learned in high school.

While the state ranks fourth in the country for technology-based corporations, it falls to 46th for participation in science and engineering graduate programs.

The economic impact is clear. Even in today’s economy, almost 30,000 jobs in Washington will go unfilled due to a lack of qualified STEM candidates over the next five years.

Both candidates have made growing our economy and improving our public schools a centerpiece of their campaigns. Achieving these two goals is vital for Washington’s future. The next governor’s success will largely depend on his leadership on advancing STEM education.

We offer two concrete suggestions to help the winner deliver on these promises:

 • Ensure that every young Washingtonian receives a high-quality STEM education as part of her basic education. As lawmakers deliberate how to fund a basic education – our state’s paramount duty – let’s bear in mind that Washington’s constitution defines education as “the basic knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in the state’s democracy.”

A basic education, then, must equip every student for success in our dynamic STEM-driven economy and society.

This goal is well within reach. The new K-12 Common Core State Standards – adopted by Washington and 45 other states – and forthcoming Next Generation Science Standards foster critical thinking, teach STEM concepts and applications, and prepare students for college and careers after they graduate high school. Effective implementation of these new standards will ensure that we finally deliver on the promise of basic education.

In the next governor, we need a champion to ensure that teachers are trained, schools have the resources to support all students, and families understand the benefits.

 • Increase the number of students who earn a postsecondary degree in STEM. Sixty-seven percent of all jobs in Washington will require postsecondary degrees by 2018; the projections rise to 94 percent for STEM jobs.

The next governor must help businesses and postsecondary institutions develop innovative certificate and degree programs such as those at the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center in Everett. He must also advocate for the Washington Opportunity Scholarship program, with the priority on producing degrees in high-demand STEM fields, such as computer science, and reaching students most in need of state aid.

The new governor will take office at a critical time. Will we continue to build our STEM economy with homegrown talent, as Microsoft, Boeing, and others were built? Will we prepare our native daughters and sons – of all colors and communities – for tomorrow’s jobs?

Or will we let our education system languish, forcing employers to recruit from afar and relegating our young people to low-wage work or outright unemployment?

It’s up to us, and it’s up to the next governor of Washington to lead the nation in closing the gap between STEM jobs and STEM-qualified graduates.

The growing network of educators, parents, community members and business leaders brought together by Washington STEM stand ready to help.

Patrick D’Amelio is CEO of Washington STEM, a statewide nonprofit advancing excellence, equity, and innovation in STEM education. For more information, see www.washingtonstem.org.

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