On the Westside of Los Angeles, there's a school where eighth-graders code and build websites, develop entrepreneurial ventures and use gaming software to design solutions for saving local endangered species. At the Incubator School, teachers leverage technology to individually tailor student learning and track progress toward challenging academic standards.
High-quality instruction in science, technology, engineering and math — subjects collectively known as STEM — can provide students with a lens to approach and view the world. When students — like those at the Incubator School — engage in hands-on STEM learning, they aren't just gaining subject matter knowledge. They're developing a mind-set that affirms they can use inquiry and their own logic to reach new conclusions and tackle tough problems.
Yet, across the country, there are disparities in students' access to the full range of math and science courses, including such subjects as algebra, geometry, biology and physics. Nationwide, while 71% of white high school students have access to the complete range of these courses — often required for college admittance — only two-thirds of Latino students and a little more than half of black students do.
This situation is compounded by shortages of qualified math and science teachers, which disproportionately affect schools serving low-income and minority students. All of this comes at a time when the United States must ramp up to keep up with international competitors — ranking 29th in math and 22nd in science among industrialized nations.
To inspire and prepare more students to excel in STEM and build a strong pipeline of teachers in these disciplines, we need new ways of approaching STEM education, and our efforts must involve everyone: States, districts, schools, tech developers, teacher prep programs and our best scientists, mathematicians and engineers all have roles to play.