Recently we’ve been reading several stories from bloggers, tech writers, and now the mainstream media about the educational gap in an area that is key to our growing economy—the technology industry. One of the most troubling aspects of the gap is that it starts as early as K-12 education. Recently released data shows that in certain geographies, minorities are lagging behind in STEM related courses compared to their counterparts in larger cities or more diverse communities.
This past year alone, data shows that in Mississippi, Montana and Wyoming, no female students took the AP computer science exam. Hispanic students were missing completely from the same exam that was given in Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. In 11 states, there were no black students who took the exam. The report was compiled earlier this month from Barbara Ericson, director of Computing Outreach for the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. Ericson states that unfortunately, the results show no improvement in numbers of minority test takers from previous years. A historical look at the data can be found here.
U.S. News & World Report further broke down the numbers and “found not only that boys outnumber girls by more than 4 to 1 among computer science test-takers, but by more than 2.5 to 1 on Physics C tests, which test specialized fields of physics. Boys also outnumber girls by nearly 2 to 1 among test-takers in the more general Physics B exam, and by nearly 1.5 to 1 on the Calculus BC exam.”
But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, many districts are looking for options to increase the number of teachers prepared to instruct STEM courses and prepare students of all genders and races for the 21st Century workforce. According to the St. Petersburg Times, the Florida Department of Education has awarded a STEM research center at Florida State University $14.3 million in grants to better prepare teachers to deliver a STEM-focused curriculum and increase the state’s online STEM resources.
Similarly, other district administrators are looking to expand curriculum courses using online programs and tapping into online instructors that already are experienced and certified in STEM to increase students’ opportunity to take these courses.
Online learning programs are uniquely suited to the delivery of STEM courses as they engage the students and allow them to work at their own pace with 24/7 support. By making courses more accessible in both high school and earlier grades, schools may be able to increase the percentage of students who go on to take AP exams in STEM courses and go to careers in these areas.