To the Editor:
With students across the nation now back for a new school year, and last year’s graduates navigating the job market, we continue to overlook a vital area that can boost academic skills and help our economy sustain full employment: geography.
Geography-related jobs—a sector that features high salaries and low unemployment—will grow rapidly over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment of geographers is projected to grow by 29 percent from 2012 to 2022, compared with an anticipated 11 percent increase for all occupations. Employment of geoscientists is projected to rise 16 percent from 2012 to 2022, and a 14 percent increase is expected for surveying and mapping technicians. Yet, the American Geosciences Institute’s “Status of the Geoscience Workforce 2014" report predicts a shortage of around 135,000 geoscientists by the end of the decade.
We are not preparing our young people to claim these jobs and advance innovative ways to use technology. Only 27 percent of 8th graders nationwide are proficient in geography—unchanged from 2010 to 2014, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.
Geography is not simply recalling state capitals and reading maps. It involves knowledge crucial to everyday living, and there are dozens of related careers. So how do we change the focus?
First, local and state officials can ensure a robust geography curriculum spanning all grades, and protect geography courses from budget cuts.
Second, more educators should recognize that geography is among the constellation of subjects that constitute STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), making it possible for related technologies to be introduced in such classes.
Finally, we can encourage more business leaders in geography-related fields to get involved and work with local K-12 schools and colleges to develop mentoring programs, internships, and teacher training.
NAEP informs us of our academic progress. Now it is up to policymakers and educators to lead.
National Assessment Governing Board
President and Chief Executive Officer
The Chicago Community Trust
Zachary Robert Dulli
Chief Executive Officer
National Council for Geographic Education
A version of this article appeared in the September 23, 2015 edition of Education Week as The Economy Depends on Good Geography Instruction