By Lee Hansen
Jan 06, 2015

STEM Education in Utah  

Stem Activity 3The Utah Public Education system is broken. An 83% graduation rate is meaningless if the majority of graduates are not ready for a career or college. High school graduates are unprepared in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, communication, and leadership skills, and unprepared for present jobs, let alone future jobs. A functioning democracy requires informed and educated voters.

Education rests on four pillars; prepared students, nurturing families, schools with high standards and clear focus, and fully invested community organizations. Half the students in Utah suffer from dysfunctional family life. One-fifth of Utah children live in single parent homes. One-seventh live below the poverty level.  5000 Utah teen-agers are in juvenile detention. When families fail, schools and community organizations must fill in the deficit, but neither our schools nor our community organizations are adequately funded. Community organizations serving children in Utah, e.g. Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, and United Way, are funded at half the average funding in other states.

STEM LogoEvaluating education requires standards for students, teachers, and schools. If Utah graduates are to compete in the national and global marketplace, those standards must be relative to national and global standards. Opposition to nation-wide educational standards is misguided, efforts should be directed at reaching or exceeding those standards, not tearing them down. A “not invented here” syndrome and resistance to change infects our local school boards. Repairing Utah schools, requires innovative superintendents and principals with the authority to change the system and to recruit well-prepared teachers with exceptional teaching abilities. Excellent charter schools are necessary to provide competition and specialty education. Community organizations that impact families and children need volunteer time and money.

Increasing taxes is unpopular, but necessary to improve Utah education. Recruiting quality teachers and school leadership requires higher salaries. Teachers are professionals that work much more than eight hours per day and should be spending their summers updating and maintaining subject matter knowledge and teaching skills instead of working second jobs to make a living. In some fields, doubling teachers’ salaries is necessary to bring them in line with other professional occupations that require similar education and continuing preparation. Otherwise, teachers with a solid knowledge of a STEM subject will either never enter the teaching profession or will leave for better-paying jobs.

Refocusing school budgets is equally as important as increasing taxes. School boards must set priorities so that real needs are met. Do we really need expensive interschool sports programs? Do we need the newest technology when students are not getting enough to eat? Are budget priorities being driven by special interests, rather than children’s needs? Are funds being equitably distributed between schools and districts? Does it make sense that district administrators are paid more than teachers?

The federal government has a necessary role in education. Students frequently move from district to district and from one state to another, and should receive the same education wherever they reside. National standards mean they are ready for a career or college anywhere in the nation. Common core standards were not developed by the federal government. Common core standards originated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and were developed by volunteer scientists, mathematicians, engineers and educators. Acceptance and implementation has been left to the states. The federal government has offered incentives to help schools improve, but it is a gross misrepresentation to say that the federal government is “imposing” common core standards or curricula on school systems. Common core standards for STEM literacy guide teaching of these subjects so all U.S. students will have the necessary skills to succeed as citizens in the 21st century.

Lee HansenAuthor: Lee D. Hansen | Utah National Parks Council Learning for Life Chairman and BYU Chemistry prof. 32 years. More than 300 scientific publications. Children schooled in several states and Canada. Governor’s STEM committee 2 years. Boy Scouts 35 years, current chair of Learning for Life. Developing STEM curricula for 5th – 8th grade.

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