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Monday, February 18, 2013

Obama's STEM High School Vision and Geospatial

The education idea that caught my eye from last week's State of the Union address had to do with expanding options in high school to infuse more Science, Technology, Education and Math (STEM) and grant students an entry credential into that workforce. The discussion was short and sweet:
Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.
The vision is of a competitive grant opportunity.
We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.
Few details were provided so I was pleased my local NPR station's OnPoint radio show got some experts to flesh out the models mentioned in the speech.

I learned that in Germany, once in such a program, really an apprenticeship, students work alongside mentors some four days a week, with just one day in school learning the underlying background to the tasks done at work.

I also learned that at P-tech students are not delivered a curriculum geared specifically for skill to be performed at IBM, but rather learn soft skills (working together, presentation skills, project work and the like) while completing a rather standard sounding associates degree. That program is six years (freshman to senior +2) but students begin college work typically in their sophomore year. Moreover, each one has a mentor from IBM for the duration. The program is only in its second year, so it's unclear how it will play out. The offer from IBM: P-Tech students will be first in line for entry level jobs, but are certainly not guaranteed them.

Could the president's program, as it matures, be another way to grow all those missing geospatial professionals we will need? (See for example the latest National Research Council report.) Will this radically change the role community colleges are playing now as providers of two year geospatial degrees? What about all those private schools offering certificates?

Will the GeoTech Center's GTCM now be used to build high school curricula? Will these programs be as horizontal as P-Tech seems to be or be more focused, creating workers who can walk into a specific job at Northrop Grumman or NGA? How will the GeoTech Center, USGIF, GITA, URISA and MAPPS contribute to this vision? Will they be matchmakers for the three required partners (high school, college, employer)? How will online education play into these new programs?

There are many questions and few answers, but this program seems like the next money train for geospatial education and training and we need the best players in our community to step up to the challenge.

1 comment:

  1. It remains to be seen whether an actual program (competitive grant, block grant, or other) develops out of that speech. Unfortunately, the DOE and its grant programs tend to lag several years behind cutting edge ideas in education; certainly increasing the presence of STEM in k-12 ed. is no new idea, and in fact has long been passionately argued, but without any particular broad federal focus. Competitive DOE grants tend to be narrow programs that take at least a decade to scale; to affect broader change, this would have to be something more like Race to the Top or No Child Left Behind where federal ed funds are tied to accomplishment in this area. But when those programs focus on a particular initiative, it tends to be at the expense of everything else. Also, the DOE at this time doesn't really do much in the area of secondary education (its focus has been on examining affordability, but not affecting curriculum), and so there's no clear budgetary stream for college-level education programs. If you look at DOE's website, they don't mention that part of the speech; they do feature the early childhood stuff he talked about. So I don't know, it's going to be a long, long way from that speech to your final paragraphs.

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