The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) thinks we should strengthen domestic manufacturing, and to garner support, they have even taken out ads in conservative standbys such as RedState.com and Human Events. Their prescription, however, misses the mark.
The AAM correctly points out that to strengthen our manufacturing sector, the U.S. needs to improve its science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. However, the AAM wrongly focuses on greater “resourcing” of efforts at and above the college level. The correct solution is not just to throw more money at the problem. Instead, the U.S. needs a flexible and innovative approach to K-12 STEM education.
Currently, many potential STEM educators choose higher paying positions in a professional field. Furthermore, new graduates and experienced professionals alike are dissuaded from entering STEM education because of time-consuming and expensive teaching degrees and certification programs.
An additional hurdle for STEM educators is the power of the seniority system that is used in most U.S. schools. Archaic “last in, first out” policies give preference to senior teachers regardless of their performance. Compensation is also based on seniority, not the quality of instruction or impact on student performance.
Our education system needs changes if it is going to compete in the 21st century. Policymakers should remove barriers to entering the teaching profession and encourage alternative certification programs, such as the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence. In addition, moving to a merit-based compensation system would reward and attract good teachers.
Our current education system determines how good a child’s education will be by the zip code he or she lives in. It doesn’t have to be this way. Online education programs can provide greater learning opportunity to millions of students and provide them with greater variety in their education. Online education allows students to learn from the best STEM teachers in subjects that might not be available at their local schools.
Furthermore, there is no need to lock children into government-assigned public schools. School choice—whether through vouchers, tuition tax credits, education savings accounts, online learning, or homeschooling—enables parents to choose schools that best meet their children’s unique needs. State policymakers should empower parents with control over their share of education dollars, allowing them to take that money to any school of their choice. Together with private-sector scholarships (something tangible the AAM can do), school choice would give more students more opportunities to get a better STEM education.
Simply spending more money on education hasn’t worked for decades. Let’s give STEM education the help it needs and provide more flexibility and choice in our education system.