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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Policy Organization Responds to National Demand for Science and Math Workforce

An organization that helps governors, legislators, state education officials and others identify,
develop and implement public policies to improve student learning has released tools for policymakers to advance science, math and technical education.

The first tool from the Education Commission of the States (ECS) focuses on increasing the workforce in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The second responds to a projected, growing national demand for students with advanced skills in career and technical fields.

ECS is an interstate compact created by the states, territories and the U.S. Congress that helps governors, legislators, state education officials and others identify, develop and implement public policies to improve student learning at all levels. A nonpartisan organization, ECS was formed in 1965 and is located in Denver, Colo.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, America "continues to suffer from a shortage of qualified [information technology] workers with flexible and portable skills who can readily adapt and respond to ever-changing IT demands and processes."

"STEM and career and technical education (CTE) both address burning issues for policymakers today," says ECS Senior Policy Analyst Jennifer Dounay, manager of the organization's High School Policy Center. "STEM and CTE programs respond to the outcry for more highly-qualified workers to meet growing state and national technical workforce needs. At the same time, CTE and STEM courses answer many high school students' calls to bring relevance and real-world applications into the classroom."

Traditionally, technical careers have not been seen as academically rigorous, ECS says. However, to be successful today, these jobs require considerable knowledge in math and science -- most of these skills are on par with what are required for traditional four-year degrees, ECS adds. The new ECS resources put the right pieces in place for policymakers to ensure broad access and
maintain high-quality instruction and curriculum for STEM and CTE programs, the organization says.

One of the resources is a STEM database, providing 50-state information on 10 indicators related to quality of and access to high school-level STEM programs. The database also offers
information on state programs targeted at STEM achievement among female, low-income and minority students -- often underrepresented in STEM classrooms and state support for pre-Advanced Placement alignment programs.

Another tool for policymakers is the CTE database, which provides 50-state data on 13 state
policy indicators linked to program access and quality, including: the use of employability skill assessment tools, the inclusion of CTE courses in graduation requirements, and funding mechanisms, among others.

"STEM and CTE programs at the high school level are growing and evolving in response to public and policymaker demand," says Roger Sampson, ECS president. "These ECS databases provide policymakers with just the tools they need to make sure students, regardless of the communities in which they live, have access to these exciting programs and that the
instruction and curriculum are at a level to adequately prepare students for life after high school or college."

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