The Destruction of STEM Teaching

by William C. Lyons

It is a rare instance of bipartisan agreement that Virginia needs to graduate more students with STEM degrees to meet the burgeoning demand for employees with backgrounds in science, technology and engineering. At considerable expense, Virginia colleges and universities have been expanding their STEM programs. But will there be enough students graduating from Virginia high schools to fill the available slots? A critical bottleneck at the K-12 level is finding enough teachers capable of teaching math and science.

William C. Lyons, an Overland Park, Kansas, educator, has expended considerable thought on what ails STEM education in the U.S. I have extracted the following from his essay, “Fixing American’s K through 12 STEM Teaching Problems and a Few Other Items Along the way.” The document provides insight into the political economy of education and the failure of STEM teaching that I have not seen anywhere else. — JAB

Today various public and private school systems continuously publish ads for new hires who have the ability and experience to teach STEM preparatory subjects for grades 4 through 12. At the present time, any new graduates with a college or university BA or BS in mathematics or in one of the sciences who aspire to become K through 12 teachers are required to go through extensive time and money consuming additional course work from an accredited Department of Education at a local state college or university.

After completing the required Department of Education course work, they must take state written examinations in order to “rise to the level of the BAs in Education” that have been hired that year into the state public school systems. In most states after completing the additional graduate course work and follow-on examinations, the prospective STEM teacher is usually given only an intern-status teaching certificate. It must be noted that the same hiring discrimination occurs for the graduates with BAs in history, political science, art, English, and the various foreign languages.

The truth remains that the teachers’ unions and state bureaucracies do not want these non-BAs in Education majors in the public school system. These corrupt state administrative forces protect the BAs in Education. This is primarily because the recent graduates with BAs in Education are a captured audience. They don’t have the qualifications to go into any other “professional” position within the economy. They can be a retail store clerk or the like, but have little or no academic credentials to move to any other professional intern position. …

The need for qualified teachers to fill the STEM subject faculty slots, particularly for grades 4 through 12, does not go away when the various ad campaigns to attract graduates with BAs or BSs in mathematics and the sciences fail. In an attempt to solve the STEM teaching problems, the state and/or city public school systems have devised advanced degree programs that will reward their public school system teachers who have sufficient seniority with more lucrative STEM contract slots.

Primarily to reward the BAs in Education who have stayed with their public school systems for fifteen to twenty years, the various college and university Departments of Education together with their state-level bureaucrats have created new master degree programs (e.g., MEd in STEM Leadership, MS Ed Mathematics and Sciences, MS in Math and Science Teaching). These senior teachers could therefore attend specific lecture series courses during a couple of summer vacations at a state college or university and be granted their new master’s degree.

These STEM master courses are a series of lectures given by summer science and engineering staffs. They are basically stand-alone classroom lectures. They are not rigorous courses with homework, laboratory work and examinations typical of traditional science and engineering courses. Also, the BAs in Education seeking these new, more lucrative STEM teaching slots usually can obtain special summer funding from their home public school systems to assist them in travel and housing costs through summer school months.

Currently, BAs in Education access the new master’s degree programs through online internet courses from the various colleges or universities within their respective states. Like so many other internet graduate programs, newer STEM master’s degree programs have required courses in the curriculum. These online courses can be accessed nearly year round. These are “canned” video lectures with little more than electronic sign-in and sign-out attendance data kept by the parent college or university that would be used to verify that program requirements have been met by a student.

It must be recognized that most of the students entering a college or university Department of Education and seeking BAs in Education likely had little or no interest in mathematics or in any of the science subjects throughout their own previous K through 12 careers. In fact, most of these BAs in Education had chosen to get their degree specifically because it had little or no mathematics or science requirements in the curriculum.

The public school teaching situations in grades 4 through 12 are the main reasons why the nation has seen such a deterioration in mathematics competency levels in high school graduates over the past three-and-a-half decades. Even some well-known private high schools have been seduced by these configured STEM master programs.

This math and science competency crisis appears to be even more acute in the public school systems with predominantly minority children (e.g. the Baltimore, Md., school system which has zero competency in mathematics). There must be significant reorganization of grades 4 through 12 course contents with real mathematics and science majors teaching. This must begin by eliminating the conflicts of interest within the bureaucracies in state/city administration in order to facilitate honest hiring and compensation for competent teaching staffs.