The California STEM Learning Network (CSLNet) is a non-profit organization working to catalyze innovation in STEM teaching and learning in the State of California. CSLNet, in collaboration with a diverse range of partners, champions policies and practices that prepare all students for success in postsecondary education, work, and life.
In a world ever more driven by technology, the state's ability to interest and educate students in fields related to math and science is becoming crucial.
As a result, "STEM"—which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—is an increasingly important acronym. From the White House to Sacramento, and from the boardroom to the classroom, "STEM" is on everyone's lips.
From an economic perspective, STEM refers to the occupations and industries in such fields as energy and the environment, health care services and biomedical science, and information and computer technology, to name only a few. This includes Californians who operate and maintain today's technical infrastructure and researchers and developers working to create the tools and processes that California industry and business will use in the future.
From an educational perspective, STEM refers to the subject matter knowledge and skills young people are acquiring, especially in their math and science courses. But experts on the topic are also interested in developing students' dispositions toward and excitement about STEM. All education institutions—from K–12 schools to community colleges and public universities—have a role. Research and advocacy related to these goals frequently addresses such questions as:
- How well do schools stir students' interest and excitement for STEM?
- Do schools have the math and science teachers they need? How prepared are elementary teachers to provide a strong foundation in these subjects?
- How well do California's K–12 schools prepare students from all backgrounds to pursue further study and work in STEM fields?
- Are enough Californians able to successfully complete degrees, certificates, or additional training in STEM fields through the state's community colleges and public universities?
Why does it matter?
As we become more reliant on technology in our everyday lives and to address larger public policy challenges, the need for California's citizens to be mathematically and scientifically literate increases as well.
Beyond that, the STEM fields are central to California's economic vitality and our students' career prospects:
- California had the largest growth of businesses in high-technology industries of any state between 2003 and 2006. In 2006, California was home to more high tech businesses than any other state by a wide margin, employing more than 1.8 million Californians. (Source: National Science Board)
- As a share of total workforce in 2008, California ranked in the first quartile among states in employing engineers and life and physical scientists, and in the second quartile in employing computer specialists. (Source: National Science Board)
- In addition, some of California's fastest-growing occupations—such as computer software engineers and medical scientists—are in STEM fields. (Source: California Employment Development Department)
But there is also reason for concern about whether California is adequately positioned for the future, and the extent to which students of all backgrounds are getting the math and science they need to prepare them for STEM opportunities:
- A 2007 survey found that only 1 out of 5 elementary teachers in the Bay Area spends more than one hour per week on science instruction. (Source: Lawrence Hall of Science & WestEd)
- Another 2007 report makes the case that California cannot yet reliably produce enough prepared middle and high school teachers in math and science to meet demand. (Source: California Council on Science and Technology & Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning)
- In 2009, only an estimated 34% of African American 11th graders and 35% of Latino 11th graders had reached at least Algebra II, compared with 52% of white 11th graders—and 78% of Asian 11th graders. (Source: EdSource)
- Among first-time community college students (enrolled for credit) in California who entered the system in Fall 2002, 41% took a course below college mathematics. These students began at widely varying levels: 23% began in Intermediate Algebra or Geometry, 34% began in Beginning Algebra, 21% began in Pre-Algebra, and 23% began in Arithmetic. (Source: EdSource)
Policymakers and various education and philanthropic organizations in the state are focusing on strengthening California's STEM capacity so today's students can be well prepared and well disposed to embrace the STEM opportunities of tomorrow.