STEM: A “Must” Opportunity for Students, and for Alabama

Birmingham is ranked 36th among the nation’s 100 largest metro areas in number of jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), according to a report by the Brookings Institution. About one-fifth of all the jobs in the area are in STEM fields.

In Alabama schools, 27% of students are interested in STEM subjects, slightly higher than the national average of 25% (according to the 2013 report by the Alliance for Science and Technology Research in America). The bad news is that only about 20% of Alabama’s 8th-grade students are above proficiency in math – only 19% in science – and percentages stagnate through their senior year. (Source: Alabama STEM Vital Signs by Change the Equation.) So in order to land some of the highest paying jobs in our state, more students need to maintain their desire while increasing their proficiency in STEM subjects.
Many of these rewarding STEM jobs don’t require a 4-year degree.

In an article published June 17th (, Steve Ceulemans, vice president for innovation and technology at the Birmingham Business Alliance, described the Brookings report as “unique” for its inclusion of jobs only requiring a 2-year associates degree.

“Areas like Birmingham aren’t necessarily what come to mind when you think of a STEM-driven economy,” Ceulemans said. However, the report cites a total of 94,520 STEM jobs in metro Birmingham – over one-third of those jobs are in health, science and information technology.

With such a high number of STEM-related jobs available in Alabama, (with starting average salaries around $48,000 – $64,000), many more Alabama students should be encouraged to prepare for a STEM field.

Alabama students have steadily improved math and science proficiency levels since 1996, and success is being realized through several initiatives to raise the bar for all students and encourage more STEM success.

First, the implementation of the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) in 40 % of Alabama’s schools has lifted performance and paved the way for changing instructional practices.  AMSTI is supporting implementation of the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards for math, based on the Common Core State Standards (link to video).  All schools are changing the way math is being taught in every classroom. Teachers trained for the new standards will no longer use masses of worksheets or drill students for rote memorization. Instead students will be exposed to the real-life application of math for deeper knowledge and understanding. Many teachers in Alabama have expressed excitement around the new learning practices, students are finding math more fun than ever and early indications are that students are already experiencing more in-depth learning.

A+ College Ready, a division of A+ Education Partnership, has shown remarkable results in Advanced Placement success in math, science and English classes since its first cohort of schools began in 2008. After only one year, 64 high schools showed an average of 110% increase in AP qualifying scores, which is 15 times the national average.

By the end of the 2012-13 school year, A+ College Ready had established AP programs in 76 program schools in 34 districts, with an enrollment of 16,600 students in AP math, science, and/or English language arts. They are expanding to 21 more schools this fall, adding approximately 2,500 more students to AP enrollment.

More deliberate focus has been given to STEM learning in K-12 and post-secondary education thanks to the efforts of AMSTEC (Alabama’s Math, Science, Technology and Engineering Coalition), which works to increase high school engineering programs and enrollment in Alabama.

Also, a new partnership with the University of Alabama and A+ College Ready is working to expand the number of AP-certified computer science teachers in the state.

There is still more work to be done and investments to be made to increase STEM opportunities and support to all K-12 students in Alabama. After all, there will be an estimated 110,000 STEM-related jobs to fill in Alabama by 2018.  That’s good news for today’s STEM students, as well as Alabama’s future.