The STEM Blame Game: There Are Only Losers

America needs to focus on solving the skills gap, not pinning it on someone.

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DALLAS—Who's responsible for creating the science, technology, engineering, and math crisis in the United States? It doesn't matter, experts at the U.S. News STEM Solutions 2012 event said Thursday.

America has to stop playing the blame game with STEM. Teachers, professors, university administrators, business leaders, parents, and students need to band together to bring up achievement levels.

"We tend to transition the blame across all of the education sectors," said Elson Floyd, president of Washington State University. "University professors will look at the students they're getting and will blame the high school. The high school teacher will blame the middle school, and the middle school teacher will blame the elementary school. And all of us are going to blame the parents."

That tactic isn't helping anyone, Floyd said.

Businesses need to help colleges create curricula that will allow students to succeed in the workplace, and universities need to help train teachers who are STEM-literate and will make the disciplines a priority in schools, the speakers said. Teachers need to be celebrated in the United States like they are in other countries; Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said the best teachers should make up to $150,000, in line with some of the best-paid engineers.

"There are countries that take the top 20 percent of graduates and say, 'You have been chosen to try and be a teacher,'" said Ellen Kullman, CEO of DuPont. "We don't have that kind of honor for the profession and we really have to if we're going to close this gap."

Kullman and Beverly Mitchell-Brooks, president of Urban League Dallas, said teachers are encouraged to teach to help kids pass standardized tests, not to open their eyes to the real-world problems STEM professionals can solve.

"We have to peel back the curtain to show students their opportunities in various areas," Mitchell-Brooks said.

But it all comes back to creating a culture shift in America. The country has to become one that celebrates educational achievement and wants to continue to lead the world economically.

"We have to create some systemic changes … Most parents don't know what engineers do. They think of an engineer as the guy who's driving the train, literally," Kullman said. "We have to change the conversation with kids and their parents."

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