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Florida Voices: Florida Needs More and Better STEM Teachers

Friday, December 14, 2012

Enhancing our state’s focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) has been the topic of much discussion for quite a while.

What we are now seeing is a broader recognition of the important role STEM can play in our economy as demand for qualified employees grows and as business and industry groups become increasingly engaged.

In 2010, the Florida Council of 100 issued a report saying Florida will need 100,000 more science and technology professionals by 2015.

The number of open STEM jobs in Florida has grown 9 percent in the past year, with 64,000 jobs available in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Ultimately, our state’s economy will benefit from investment in STEM education and we know that Florida needs more post-secondary graduates who are prepared to enter a STEM-related field.

The demand for STEM professionals will continue to increase as Florida’s economy continues to grow.

We must do a better job of inspiring our middle and high school students to get involved in STEM-related fields or the seats we have available in higher education will continue to be filled by foreign students.

Under current immigration policies, these students earn their degrees and head home, likely working for companies that compete with Florida-based industries.

Graduating and keeping talented STEM students in Florida begins with teachers. The best schools hire talented educators who have a deep knowledge of their subjects. Investing in development and continuing education for teachers is in the best interest of every Floridian.

Now, less than one quarter of Florida high school graduates take physics, and only about 65 percent take chemistry. By comparison, roughly 90 percent enroll in biology and geometry, with more than 80 percent taking Algebra II.

End-of-course exams show levels of underperformance among students in critical subjects such as Algebra I. Getting an early start developing student interest in STEM is a challenge. It must begin as early as preschool, refining direction with STEM coursework in middle and high school.

The problem is not simply a lack of interest by students. It is also a lack of educators qualified to teach subjects such as biology, geometry and higher-level mathematics.

Through a grant awarded by the Florida Department of Education, the University of Tampa is working in partnership with the Florida Independent College Fund and the Florida Learning Alliance to deliver STEM teacher development sessions in rural classrooms across Florida. The partnership also provides free online modules for teachers statewide through the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida eLibrary.

The ScienceMathMaster (SM2) educator development eLibrary website ( delivers a tailored science and math curriculum online for every Florida educator.

Teachers now have the ability to access videos, learning modules and workshop materials at their convenience. By providing professional learning opportunities to teachers, we boost performance of high school students who need to master STEM subjects, pass exams, meet high school requirements and eventually succeed in college and enter a STEM field.

In its second year, SM2 is doing more than generating a conversation about STEM; it is helping educators better prepare for the future. We must find ways to enhance the knowledge and skills of our teachers. We need more STEM-focused partnerships focusing on teacher training and development that, in the long run, contributes to the success of every Florida student and the prosperity of our state.

Dr. Ed H. Moore is president and CEO, Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.

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