If there’s no ‘STEM crisis,’ why build more STEM schools?

Before you get your shorts in a knot, I have nothing against science, technology, engineering, or even mathematics; to the contrary, I love all four “STEM” disciplines (I’m lying about the math). But I question whether we need to be building K-12 schools that overly emphasize or are totally devoted to STEM.
March 04, 2014 |
Rob Cassidy

Photo: MSPACE Holdings via Wikinedia Commons

Before you get your shorts in a knot, I have nothing against science, technology, engineering, or even mathematics; to the contrary, I love all four “STEM” disciplines (I’m lying about the math). 

But I question whether we need to be building K-12 schools that overly emphasize or are totally devoted to STEM.

My concern about STEM schools arises from reading a brilliant article in IEEE Spectrum, the publication of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, in which the author, Robert N. Charette, presents the argument that “The STEM Crisis Is a Myth.”

This is not a popular position. The U.S. and other governments say we’re falling behind in producing STEM professionals for industry and national defense. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology says we need a million new STEM graduates, and Mr. Obama wants 100,000 more STEM-trained teachers by 2020.

The U.K.’s Royal Academy of Engineering is calling for 100,000 more STEM graduates a year till 2020. Germany and India have voiced similar concerns about STEM graduate shortfalls.

These outcries about the so-called “STEM crisis” have pushed down to the K-12 school level, where some school districts are devoting whole schools at the primary, middle, and high school levels to STEM-based curricula. Your firm may be designing or building such facilities.

Here’s the problem: We don’t need to pump up our production of STEM professionals; in fact, we have an oversupply. Charette estimates the surplus of STEM college graduates to be something like 70,000, not counting those with advanced degrees or foreign H-1B visa holders.

At the risk of oversimplifying Charette’s extremely sophisticated analysis—a 33-year member of the IEEE Computer Society, the self-described “risk ecologist” culled through hundreds of articles, white papers, and reports to prepare his brief—he notes that, of the 7.6 million STEM workers counted by the Commerce Department, only 3.3 million hold STEM degrees. Conversely, 15 million U.S. residents hold at least a BS degree in a STEM discipline, but 11.4 million—three-fourths—don’t hold STEM jobs.

As Charette says, “At least in the United States, you don’t need a STEM degree to get a STEM job, and if you do get a degree, you won’t necessarily work in that field after you graduate.” So why the big push to get more STEM graduates? And why emphasize STEM at the K-12 level?

Charette traces the STEM myth back to 1945, with White House science advisor Vannever Bush warning about a “serious deficit” of scientists in the postwar period. The Cold War heightened the scare, and the USSR’s launch of Sputnik in 1957 led to the space race and the creation of NASA.

Today, major tech corporations like Boeing, Symantec, and Microsoft keep beating the STEM-shortage drum, even though engineering salaries have not risen commensurately with the alleged shortage of talent.

We don’t need STEM schools in this country. We need schools that meet the needs of the whole child. As Charette notes, “Rather than spending our scarce resources on ending a mythical STEM shortage, we should figure out how to make all children literate in the sciences, technology, and the arts to give them the best foundation to pursue a career and then transition to new ones.” STEM, yes, but equally with the arts.

Send comments to: rcassidy@sgcmail.com

Rob Cassidy | Building Team Blog

Rob Cassidy (“ClimateGrouch”) is editorial director of Building Design+Construction. A city planner, he is the author of several books, including “Livable Cities,” and was a co-founder of the Friends of the Chicago River.

Related Blogs

The High Line effect: Placemaking as an economic development engine

Eight years into the transformation of an elevated section of New York Central Railroad’s West Side Line into a public park, the $273 million project is being hailed as a resounding win for the city. Photo: Beyond My Ken via Wikimedia Commons

March 02, 2015 | Cultural Facilities | Building Team Blog

As big money and eager tourists flock to Chelsea, cities across the globe are starting to take notice. Chic...

read more
Photo: Infrogmation via Wikimedia Commons

The National Institute of Building Sciences estimates the retrofit market for small commercial buildings at $35.6 billion. Photo: Infrogmation via Wikimedia Commons

January 28, 2015 | Office Building Design | Building Team Blog

The real opportunity for shrinking the nation’s energy footprint lies in the mundane world of small commerc...

read more

This past October, 78 young AEC professionals gathered in New York City for leadership development and networking during BD+C's Under 40 Leadership Summit.

January 21, 2015 | Building Team Blog
Many AEC firms focus on training for the hard skills of the profession, not so much for business prowess,...
read more

Photo: Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons

December 22, 2014 | Building Team Blog

Commercial and residential construction can be as different as night and day. But as one who covered the ho...

read more

American Standard's SaTo sanitary toilet pans (shown here installed in a latrine in Haiti) seal off pit latrines from flies to prevent the spread of pathogens.

December 08, 2014 | Building Team Blog

When we see the incredible technology being produced by global plumbing manufacturers, it’s hard to conceiv...

read more

Prajakti "PJ" Glasco, AIA, ACHA, LEED AP BD+C, Senior VP/Senior Project Planner, FKP Architects (Class of 2014 40 Under 40 winner)

November 21, 2014 | Building Team Blog

Are you an AEC superstar? The 2015 "40 Under 40" competition is now open for entries. Here are some helpful...

read more
November 17, 2014 | Building Team Blog

It’s been almost two years since 20 first-graders were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in N...

read more

Photo: Nightscream via Wikimedia Commons

September 25, 2014 | Building Team Blog

Precedents and patterns may not tell you all that much about future spending or demand.

Illustration: ratch0013 via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

September 03, 2014 | Building Team Blog

Architecture, engineering, and (presumably) construction firms will face difficulties with management succe...

read more

Qianhai Development - Goettsch Partners, August 2014

August 29, 2014 | Building Team Blog

U.S. architecture and engineering firms like Goettsch Partners have been enjoying full employment in China....

read more
 

Add new comment

Your Information
Your Comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Refresh Type the characters you see in this picture. Type the characters you see in the picture; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.  Switch to audio verification.
Overlay Init