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STEM benefits Iowa's educational system

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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On Sept. 8, Gov. Terry Brandstad, Lt. Gov. Reynolds, and other officials, including University of Iowa President Sally Mason, marked the kickoff of a new STEM initiative, a program meant to increase classroom interest and success in Iowa’s education system.

Most would agree the state of Iowa’s early education system is in need of reform. Although Iowa is not considered the worst state in teaching science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, it ranks below average as No. 38, according to the American Institutes of Physics.

On May 4, Branstad signed an executive order creating a STEM Advisory Board, the goal of which is to improve the current approach to teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in Iowa’s early education system.

Though science and math are obviously already a part of the curriculum, the STEM program will include curriculum-based changes that are needed to improve kindergarten through grade 12 education in Iowa.  

Students need motivation, teachers need practical support and improved training, and schools need financial support for initiatives such as this to be successful. The new STEM initiatives set forth by the Branstad administration have most of the right elements for improving the state’s education system.

The executive director of the governor’s STEM Advisory Board, Jeff Weld, said that having had 30 years of experience as an educator, he believes science and math education must improve with the times.  

“K-12 [education] has always served the working world well because the workforce needs people who have basic knowledge,” he said. “But now the workforce needs technologically competent workers who can integrate math and science knowledge and problem-solving skills — [the current] K-12 system is still making workers for the 1950s.”

The new STEM initiatives will attempt to incorporate business technology into the classroom and help teachers feel more comfortable with the materials and content of STEM classes. One way in which the STEM program will accomplish this feat is by separating the state into six districts to help guarantee the successes of schools all across Iowa, according to the program’s website.

“One of the goals of the STEM Advisory Council is to be sure that we serve underrepresented, underserved,” said Reynolds, as reported by The Daily Iowan. “We recognize that there are great STEM initiatives already taking place in Iowa, but what we also recognize is that they’re not reaching all students.”

The districts will have managers able to better connect educators with employers in order to better incorporate technological and workforce based training into the school day. This makes training teachers and including business in primary education feasible.

There are 12 curriculum-based programs that have been evaluated scientifically and proven successful in intriguing the students, helping them both do better and report that they found greater enjoyment in class. They prove sustainable even if there are some funding shortages.

That being said, with bipartisan support on the part of the state Legislature, funding should not be a challenge this year — the state has appropriated $4.7 million for STEM programming. 

“Just about every aspect of [adult] lives are touched by technology,” Weld said. “In terms of innovation and creativity, STEM seems to be the golden child.”

Education reform has had its ups and downs, and right now, Iowa could really use an up. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics have been and will continue to shape the future of Iowa in the national rankings, and a program such as this could easily move Iowa to the top.


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