Education Opinion

The Alleged Shortage of STEM Workers

By Walt Gardner — February 20, 2015 1 min read
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Employers blame public schools for not graduating enough students interested in a career or a college major in science, technology, engineering or math. According to a survey of more than one million students who took the ACT test, nearly 90 percent expressed a lack of interest in those four fields. So, yes, there is some basis for the complaint. But a more likely explanation is that companies want to be able to hire STEM workers from abroad in order to reduce the wages they have to pay (“End H-1B visa program’s abuse,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 17).

Although federal law expressly prohibits the use of visas to displace American workers and drive down salaries, companies violate the provisions without consequences. As a result, fraud and abuse continue unabated because of a lack of enforcement. To deflect attention away from their violations, companies criticize public schools. They’ve learned that the best defense is an offense.

There’s no question that public schools need to do a much better job turning on students to math and science. Many teachers lack expertise in these two fields, and it shows. But at the same time, it’s important not to get carried away by alarmist claims (“Is the U.S. Focusing Too Much on STEM?” The Atlantic, Dec. 3, 2014). That’s because only 11 percent of jobs in STEM fields require high-level math (“Who Says Math Has to Be Boring?” The New York Times, Dec. 7, 2013). Moreover, too much emphasis on careers can be counterproductive (“School Is About More Than Training Kids to Be Adults,” The Atlantic, Feb. 17). Let’s not forget that teachers can teach a subject well and yet teach them to hate the subject in the process. When that happens, it’s a pyrrhic victory.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.