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Friday, December 6, 2013

Anthony Carnevale on STEM and Jobs

Anthony P. Carnevale

Anthony Carnevale, an economist who is director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, has been one of the most outspoken advocates for changing the education system to produce more graduates with skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (known as the STEM fields). He and his colleagues at the center produced an influential 2011 report showing that the United States needs to do more than produce an elite corps of STEM workers — it needs to raise those skills in the vast majority of students. More than a third of all STEM jobs by 2018 will be for those with less than a bachelor’s degree, the report found, raising the importance of high school engagement, community colleges and two-year associate degrees.

He spoke recently with David Firestone of The New York Times editorial board about how the country should address these needs.

How do you explain the mismatch between the high demand for skilled science and technical graduates and the low number of qualified applicants for those kinds of jobs?

Q&A: Anthony P. Carnevale
Published: December 6, 2013, NYTIMES

One of the big reasons is that the curriculum itself is off-putting. For the most part, it’s a very difficult curriculum. It requires more hours of work. There are labs as well as classes. You’ll spend less time going to the football game because you’ll be in a lab somewhere. So the time-on-task in STEM is huge. And not so in other fields and disciplines. There’s less homework in English and business.

But business and health care often pay more than STEM fields, and they’re more socially engaging. So young people, from an economic and social perspective, are making rational choices not to go into STEM.

What can elementary and high schools do to make those kinds of courses more engaging and attractive to kids who are turned off?

Since 1983 we have emphasized abstract academic curriculums in teaching science and math, especially math. But we know, from studying brain function, that more applied and practical teaching works better and attracts people more. The whole movement toward high standards in science and math has become too much of a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing to raise standards in math and try to make everybody reach them. But not when you only have one pathway, which in the case of math and science is to move people through a hierarchy of abstraction. Every course every year gets more and more abstract. It has no real connection to the world.

People in general, and young people in particular, who feel isolated from the rest of the world, need that connection. Doing it the right way is also more expensive. If you’re really going to have applied curriculums with experiences attached to them, it’s more expensive. It includes internships, better labs, better teachers.

In case of both the students and teachers, we know these abstract methods leave them knowing a fair amount, but there’s not much evidence they understand what they know. This includes the teachers. If you ask them to apply what they know, give them a problem to solve, where there’s lots of choices about different methods and applications of science and math, they don’t know how to proceed. If you give them a mathematical operation to solve, they’ll do quite well. The SAT and ACT have known this for years. If I give you a quadratic equation, you’ll solve it. If I give you a problem to solve that requires you use a quadratic equation, you won’t.

From what you’ve seen of the new Common Core standards, do you think they move in the direction of more abstraction or more application?

In theory they do move more toward applied learning, but in practice I’m worried they won’t. I’m all for higher standards and I’m all for national standards, especially in math. But my problem is, given that we’re so deeply invested since 1983 in these abstract curriculums, that single-curriculum pathway may be enshrined in stone before we’re done.

In theory, the Common Core says, we just want you to be able to do a certain set of things, we don’t care how you learn it. But when I look at the assessments, basically it looks like very academic kinds of learning goals to me. So I have a worry about it. I’m sort of what you might call a friendly dissenter on Common Core. I’m not opposed to it. I just think we’re missing an opportunity to build one more pathway. In a society that’s rich, where education is as important as it is, there needs to be more than one pathway.

One of those new pathways is what’s been called career and technical education (C.T.E.), where high school students learn more of the skills they’ll need for specific jobs, even working with mentors from industry. I assume you’d applaud the growing interest in that?

Yes. This isn’t the same as the vocational education of the ‘70s and ‘80s, most of which has been drummed out of the curriculum because it put all the females in home ec, and all the boys in the construction trades. What we’re talking about nowadays is an integration of career and tech education and high educational standards. But it really takes money and talent to make that happen. It requires a different kind of teacher, a different kind of curriculum, different equipment. C.T.E. is still the red-headed, illegitimate child at the family reunion in many ways. The path from high school to Harvard is still the one we all honor more, and that is a very academic pathway.

How do you prevent it from becoming a ghettoized path, the place where teachers shunt minority students into, and then ignore them?

This isn’t a path away from college, this is simply another way to get there, and it will still make intense demands on the education system to get them there.

1 comment:

  1. In a society that is rich, where education is as important as it is, there needs to be more than one pathway.

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