December 16, 2020


STEM Education In Middle School Is Key

The importance of STEM education in middle school is tough to overstate. Our nation’s top leaders and researchers have repeatedly emphasized that if America wishes to remain competitive in the global economy it must produce more professionals with college degrees in STEM. We are woefully behind China and India in the amount of STEM students we currently have, and the reason for that is partially to do with poor STEM education in middle school.

AIS has been looking to thwart this potential economic disaster by establishing the AIS PREP program, our STEM summer school for Native American middle schoolers. STEM education in middle school is especially important for the Native American population because they have the highest high school dropout rate in the nation. And the number one reason that students drop out of high school is because they lack the foundational education in their elementary and middle school years necessary to succeed in high school. By creating the AIS PREP program our goal is to create better high school graduation rates among Native Americans, and improve the amount of Native Americans pursuing STEM degrees.

America Needs STEM Graduates

Reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2005 and 2010 projected that the U.S. will have difficulty producing enough professionals with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) training in order to fill careers that will become vacant. This could have long term effects not just for our economy, but for our national security as well. If we don’t have enough Americans trained in science and engineering then we face a potential future where we won’t have the trained military personnel necessary to operate and develop current and future defense systems in which America still leads, such as cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum research, and even nanotechnology – all areas where our global competitors are pushing hard to overtake us. – Forbes

“The leading competitor is China, whose political leadership understands only too well how important STEM leadership is for global leadership. The World Economic Forum calculates that China had at least 4.7 million recent STEM grads as of 2016; India had 2.6 million as of 2017; the U.S. pulls in at third at 568,000.  That puts us about equal with India for STEM grads per population (1:516 ratio for Indians and 1:573 for Americans); but well behind China’s 1:293 ratio.  China has also mastered the science of sending their students to foreign universities to build their knowledge base in crucial STEM areas, who then head back to China to become foot soldiers in the battle for high-tech supremacy. And a key training ground for those students are America’s best colleges and universities. Last year, for example, 62 percent of all international students in US colleges and universities were in science and engineering fields. Almost seventy percent of those were from either India or China.” – Forbes

Why We Aren’t Producing Enough

Why is America having difficulty producing enough STEM graduates to fill our economic need? It comes down to three points: The baby boomer generation is far larger than the following generations so there are more vacancies opening up due to retirements than can be filled, students are losing interest in STEM subjects, and the current educational system is ill equipped to keep up with the often rapid fire developments in STEM. The good news is that evidence suggests that interventions can be done, both to improve student favorability of STEM subjects and to raise their STEM skills and aptitude.

“Using National Educational Longitudinal Study data, Tai et. al. (2006) found that middle schoolers who indicate they are interested in pursuing a career in science were three times more likely to graduate with a science degree, making career aspirations during middle school an important predictor for STEM professions. In addition, psychological research tells us that adolescence is a time when students are exploring new things and furthering their sense of identity in relation to future plans (Eccles, Barber, Stone, & Hunt, 2003).” – International Journal of Environmental & Science Education

AIS PREP Is Turning This Around In Native Communities

The AIS PREP program takes full advantage of this finding by having students attend daily career awareness lectures and weekly science fields trips during the three year summer school. By introducing students to a myriad of STEM professionals and giving them an up close look at what their jobs entail, students are introduced to a wide variety of careers that they weren’t aware of before as being available to them. As a result, many of our students who previously only had ambitions to become basketball stars, now say that they want to pursue medicine, dentistry, or engineering.

To raise students’ skills and aptitude in STEM subjects, AIS PREP holds daily classes that are hands on and immersive, with regular science activities to fully engage the students. The end result is that students dramatically raise their test scores and perform better during the school year. This is especially important for Native American students because they have the lowest test scores in STEM subjects of any group. In the 2014 Native Youth Report from the Executive Office of the President it stated that “Twenty-two percent of Native fourth graders and 17 percent of Native eighth graders scored at the ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ levels in math in 2011. Nationally, 40 percent of fourth graders and 35 percent of eighth graders scored in this range. This reflects a profound gap in primary and secondary academic achievement.”

According to Business Insider, the #1 reason students drop out of school is because they’re failing too many classes. As students become more comfortable in STEM subjects and gain better problem solving and reasoning skills through our curriculum, the likelihood of them failing classes and dropping out of high school goes down. This is evidenced by the success of the seminal TexPREP upon which our curriculum is based. At TexPREP 90% of their students graduate high school and continue on to college.

In today’s technology-driven world, America needs to see a sharp increase in STEM graduates. If we hope to be able to produce enough qualified STEM professionals to fill the need, providing students with both exposure and career training in STEM during the middle school years is a must.



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