California bill proposing creation of state-run STEM school draws fire, praise
- The California Senate Appropriations Committee is debating a new bill this week that would create a state-authorized, independently managed STEM school designed to create a pipeline of Los Angeles County low-income minority middle and high school students to send to schools like MIT and CalTech.
- The idea has some powerful supporters, including the above-named institutions of higher education, TechNet and Eli Broad, a billionaire Los Angeles philanthropist, charter school funder and founder of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.
- Opponents of the idea worry that the bill sets a dangerous precedent for elimination of local control by creating schools at the state level and question why the goal of supporting a STEM school for low-income students could not be better handled through a charter school model or though one of the 95 existing STEM magnet programs in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The bill currently being debated in California is rooted in the need to improve the representation of minorities in important and lucrative STEM career fields, A March 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Education revealed that African-Americans received just 7.6% of all STEM bachelor's degrees and 4.5% of doctorates in STEM, primarily because they struggle with degree completion. This underrepresentation continues in the STEM-field workplace. In 2011, only 6% of STEM workers were black compared to a total workforce in which 11% of employees were black. As low as this figure is, it has grown considerably since 1970 when only 2% of workers in STEM fields were black, the report stated.
Supporters of schools such as the one under consideration in California see this option as a solution. If schools can better prepare low-income minority students for success in the STEM college classroom, these students will have a better chance of success in STEM fields.
Because of the connection between success in STEM classrooms and the growth of the STEM-field talent pool, several entrepreneurs in the field of technology are using their influence and resources to back their ideas concerning education. Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg are two examples. They, like Eli Broad, are influencing the course of public education in ways not seen in prior generations. The long-term results of this private influence on public education remains to be seen