By Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson
The United States has begun to lose its status as a scientific and technological leader, and the only way we can hope to compete in the 21st century global economy is if we invest in research and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. It is vital that we not lose sight of that, even in these tough budget times.
As we work to pass an FY 2011 appropriations bill and a budget resolution for FY 2012, I urge my colleagues to remember that our long term economic growth and competitiveness are dependent upon the investments in research and education that we make today.
Many high-tech companies cite the availability of a skilled STEM workforce as the number one reason for determining where they locate their facilities. More and more U.S. companies are moving abroad because they can’t find the highly skilled workforce they need here at home. According to 2008 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the professional IT workforce was projected to add a little under a million new jobs between 2008 and 2018.
This represents more than twice the rate of the overall workforce growth between 2008 and 2018. If we want those jobs to stay in the U.S., and in Texas, we must continue to invest in STEM education for our future workforce.
Our best STEM students have no trouble competing with their international peers, but we cannot rely on just the top five percent. On average, our K-12 students continue to lag far behind their international peers in math and science aptitude. Earlier this year, the National Assessment Governing Board released the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science scores.
The assessment found that less than half of our nation’s students are demonstrating solid academic performance and proficiency in science. Equally troubling are the significant achievement gaps at every level between White and minority students. The NAEP revealed that, on a zero to 300 scale, Black fourth-graders and eighth-graders scored an average of 36 points lower than their White counterparts and Black 12th-graders scored an average of 34 points lower than their White counterparts.
While this achievement gap was never excusable, as long as our nation overall was still number one, it was easier for our leaders to let year after year pass without taking the hard steps to address it. But now, just as our nation’s leadership is challenged, our demographics are shifting in profound ways. By the year 2050, minorities are predicted to represent 55 percent of the national college population.
According to recently released census data, Whites now account for just 45 percent of the population in Texas, down from 52 percent a decade ago. We simply will not have a sufficient well-trained STEM workforce if we continue to overlook an increasingly significant fraction of the talent pool. We need to do a better job of developing ALL of the STEM talent the nation has to offer.
Many Federal STEM programs, including those supported by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education, are making a difference in universities, community colleges, and K-12 schools across the nation. One highly successful teacher training program is the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which I helped to expand in the America COMPETES Act legislation.
The Noyce scholarship program helps to prepare future math and science teachers by giving them a solid foundation in both their subject matter and the pedagogy specific to math and science education. The Noyce program was modeled after innovative and highly successful teacher preparation programs, including the UTeach program in Texas. UTeach is a unique four-year program which was initiated at The University of Texas at Austin in 1997 and is now being replicated at 21 universities around the country.
The Teach for America program has also had great success at recruiting outstanding recent college graduates to teach in under-resourced schools. In 2004, Teach for America began their Math and Science Initiative which focuses on recruitment of graduating college seniors, graduate students, and professionals with STEM expertise.
Over the past two years, this approach has increased the number of Teach for America applicants with a math, science, or engineering background. In the 30th Congressional District of Texas, we are fortunate to have 245 Teach for America corps members teaching alongside many excellent veteran teachers.
Programs like these help us out-educate, out-innovate, and out-build the rest of the world. At a time when so many on Capitol Hill are solely focused on cutting programs, regardless of their success or impact, we must not waver in our commitment to our children, their children, and the future of this country. Reckless cuts to STEM education and broadening participation programs will only undermine our economic growth in the long term, and will affect the lives of so many across the country almost immediately.
As Ranking Member of Science, Space and Technology, it is my top priority to identify and support strategies that will bolster American innovation, improve STEM education, promote diversity, and ensure that we are not only competing in the 21st century, but leading.