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Idea of the Day: We Need to Improve STEM Education in Elementary Schools

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You can’t throw a stone without hitting a STEM initiative these days, but most science, technology, engineering, and math initiatives—thus the STEM acronym—overlook a fundamental problem. In general, the workforce pipeline of elementary school teachers fails to ensure that the teachers who inform children’s early academic trajectories have the appropriate knowledge of and disposition toward math-intensive subjects and mathematics itself. Prospective teachers can typically obtain a license to teach elementary school without taking a rigorous college-level STEM class such as calculus, statistics, or chemistry, and without demonstrating a solid grasp of mathematics knowledge, scientific knowledge, or the nature of scientific inquiry. This is not a recipe for ensuring that students have successful early experiences with math and science, or for generating the curiosity and confidence in these topics that students need to pursue careers in STEM fields.

“No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America’s Education Schools” by the National Council on Teacher Quality, documented the need for more rigorous mathematics preparation of elementary level teacher candidates. And in the two years since its release, very little has changed—despite evidence showing that elementary school students have higher achievement in mathematics when their teachers know more about how to teach math well.

In "Slow Off the Mark," Diana Epstein and Raegen Miller focus on the selection and preparation of elementary school teachers, most of whom will be required to teach mathematics and science when they enter the classroom. It is elementary school mathematics and science that lay the foundation for future STEM learning, but it is elementary school teachers who are often unprepared to set students on the path to higher-level success in STEM fields.

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This is part of a regular column: Idea of the Day

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