Science and Math Education (with a Quiz Question)

I want to build on Amy's blog yesterday by talking a bit more about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.  (By the way, the New York Times published last week an amusing article that poked fun at the "STEM" acronym.  I agree with the sentiment, but I think the term will be around for awhile.)

Last month, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology submitted a report to President Obama on STEM.  I encourage you to at least review the executive summary and recommendations (pages v-x).  

Among other things, the report reinforces the basic assertion that the US faces challenges in both student aptitude and interest.   Specifically, it states:  "There are two obstacles to achieving the nation's goals with respect to STEM education. First, too few U.S. students are proficient in STEM.  Second, too few of those who are proficient pursue STEM fields." 

To illustrate the point, here is a quiz question for you to ponder.  Of all the 9th graders in the US in 2001, what percentage do you think are predicted to earn college degrees in STEM fields by 2011?

A) 14%

B) 22%

C) 4%

D) 34%

The report cites a study that says the correct answer is.....4%.  This is a stunning and disconcerting finding.   How can this be, particularly given the extraordinary impact and potential of science and math? 

Advances in these subjects represent the most remarkable achievements of the human mind.  In math, we have developed a universal language that allows us to model and better understand the universe.  Our accumulated scientific learning has given us knowledge of the natural world that is simply breathtaking.  Moreover, the applications of these disciplines have ushered in the modern life we enjoy today, and new breakthroughs hold the promise of improving health, enhancing prosperity, and fostering a sustainable environment.  The fact that only 4% of students will major in these wondrous and deeply useful subjects is--to say the least--discouraging.   

It is critical that the US muster the will and resources to address the lack of proficiency and interest in science and math.  As I blogged last month on this topic, Lilly will engage and invest in programs and ideas that can improve results and help spark student passion for these subjects. 

I would love to hear from you.  Am I overstating the problem and the urgency?  Some would answer yes (see this and this).  Please let me know what you think.