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No Future Doctors, Engineers, or Scientists in Valencia County, New Mexico?

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No Future Doctors, Engineers, or Scientists in Valencia County, New Mexico?

If one looks around Valencia County’s high schools it is alarming to see how little STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Honors and AP (advanced placement) classes are in the course catalogs. How can a student succeed in a STEM field at university level when he or she didn’t get the proper foundation and college preparation in high school? Does Valencia County accept that no future doctors, engineers or scientists will be produced within its community? Are we content with substandard education and high unemployment? The fact is that the health and technology industries continue to advance exponentially and New Mexico lacks educated professionals to fill STEM-related positions. In order to better prepare students for future STEM technical occupations, Valencia County needs to hire more qualified STEM teachers and retain those it has. These schools must develop a competitive skill sets for students interested in STEM oriented college majors and careers in a technology field – this effort begins with setting a resource priority on STEM programs.

On the larger scale, there is growing concern that the United States is not preparing a sufficient number of students, teachers, and practitioners in the areas of STEM. A large majority of secondary school students fail to reach proficiency in math and science, and many are taught by teachers lacking adequate subject matter knowledge. Furthermore, the U.S. ranks 20th among all nations in the ratio of 24-year-olds who earn degrees in natural science or engineering (Kuenzi). So how are we filling our STEM positions? In the case of India, the U.S. has 2,061,000 immigrants which is the second-most common origin to China in 2013 (Zong). “More than half of Indian immigrants in the United States obtain lawful permanent residence (“green card”) through the employment-based referral. Compared to the overall foreign- and native-born populations, Indian immigrants are significantly higher educated, are likely to be employed in high-tech industries and medicine, and have a higher household income” (Zong). Until the early 2000s, once a leader in STEM education, the United States is now far behind many countries on several measures while providing valuable incentive to foreign nations to fill our requirements (Kluger).

What is the source of the problem? Some attribute poor student performance to an inadequate supply of qualified teachers. This appears to be the case with respect to subject-matter knowledge: many U.S. math and science teachers lack an undergraduate major or minor in those fields — as many as half of those teaching in middle school math. In May 2002 the U.S. Department of Education released a report stating that over 11% of the STEM teachers in our high schools do not have a degree in their field (Kuenzi). Indeed, postsecondary degrees in math and physical science have steadily decreased in recent decades as a proportion of all STEM degrees awarded. Although degrees in some STEM fields (particularly biology and computer science) have increased in recent decades, the overall proportion of STEM degrees awarded in the United States has historically remained at about 17% of all postsecondary degrees awarded (Kuenzi). This does not fill the requirements growing at a much faster rate over the last 20 years. This problem is worse in New Mexico which is 49th in the Nation (Koebler) and unfortunately worse in Valencia County based on its poor economy.

The tech and health industries are keenly aware of the problem. Recently, “Business leaders in New Mexico have sounded an alarm. They cannot find the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) talent they need to stay competitive. Students’ lagging performance in K–12 is a critical reason why” (changetheequation.org). New Mexico ($9,012) spends more per student than neighboring states Colorado ($8,647), Utah ($6,555) or Arizona ($7,208), but is ranked bottom of the nation (census.org). The question is where all this money goes? When one looks around the high school campuses he/she will see two new high schools (Valencia 2009/Los Lunas 2012-2015), well maintained or new stadiums, new Olympic pools, and new gymnasium facilities but the classrooms are located in 20 year-old containers (Belen High School, Google Earth) and the school district cannot pay competitive salaries in order to retain STEM teachers in Valencia County. Tragically, these three main high schools in Valencia County don’t offer any of the STEM AP classes available for future university programs – they lack funding for teachers with a strong background and teaching experience in math and science.

That it is possible to turn things around is demonstrated in the example of Arizona H.S. Basis Scottsdale - the school is ranked #2 nationwide and #3 in STEM in 2015 (Morse). In 2011, Arizona high schools were below average as well as New Mexico high schools (Tate), but in four short years Arizona managed to improve their students’ skills especially in math and science. In order to get there, the Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) established or developed for example:

• A rural initiative by assisting schools to meet the adopted standards, while maintaining other educational programs.

• An Arizona STEM network – a strategic effort to help improve Arizona’s educational system for STEM.

• The Bisgrove Scholars program to attract and retain exceptional individuals who have demonstrated substantial potential in STEM fields.

• Robotics – an attractive way of actively engage young people in STEM learning.

• Informal STEM opportunities that include all programs that expose children and/or



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