Iowa’s sagging test scores in science and mathematics have prompted Gov. Terry Bran-stad to issue Execu-tive Order 74, calling for the creation of an advisory council tasked with solving the problem. The Governor’s Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (“STEM”) Advisory Council will help the Branstad administration determine how best to fix Iowa’s stagnant growth in those fields.
“Rising to Greatness,” a report card issued by the Iowa Department of Education, said Iowa eighth-grade math scores have literally “flatlined.” Fewer students take advanced mathematics and science courses, allowing other states and nations to outstrip Iowa.
Branstad has said righting Iowa’s educational course is one of his priorities, and that addressing issues in math and science are key components of reaching that goal. By his estimation, jobs in STEM fields will grow at double the rate of other jobs in the next several years making improvement a priority.
“An increased focus in science, technology, engineering and math will lead to higher achievement and better career opportunities,” Branstad said in a statement. “It’s not enough for Iowa to become the top-performing education state again. Our schools must be competitive with the top-performing school systems around the world.”
Branstad’s sentiment is one shared by area educators.
“We’re just completely supportive of (the STEM Advisory Council),” Clinton Community School District Curriculum Director John Jorgensen said. “As a matter of fact, we’re already heading down that road with Project Lead the Way.”
Project Lead the Way is an initiative formed three years ago to encourage students hoping to enter engineering or biotechnology programs in college. College credit is available to students who enroll in classes emphasizing science and advance mathematics, in hopes of promoting the development of the field of study.
“Basically, we’re about three years ahead of where the governor’s at,” Jorgensen said.
The 40-person STEM council will have several objectives, including advancing recruitment of STEM educators. Branstad has also emphasized a focus using technology as an educational tool.
Many new classrooms across the state already incorporate Smartboard technology, which greatly expands a teacher’s ability to interact with students.
But Jorgensen said the Clinton Community School District is attempting to get ahead of the curve in the technology department as well.
Jorgensen said the district is in the process of seeking funding for Innovation Classrooms, which would provide students with an immersive, technological approach to problem solving.
Innovation Classrooms would have group-based computer hubs, which would encourage collaboration between students. Rather than force teachers to lecture for the duration of a class period, Innovation Classrooms would allow students to explore and solve problems without total instruction.
“(The students) continually collaborate at different levels,” Jorgensen said. “You hear this term, ‘21st Century Skills.’ One of the core ‘21st Century Skills’ ...is people working together.”
The STEM Advisory Council will work to promote programs like these, as well as recommend policy changes to the Governor. Though it will consist of Branstad appointees, the Governor has expressed his desire for educational progress to be made independent of partisan politics.