A pair of Idaho lawmakers are pushing a plan for high schools built around science, technology, engineering and math that could exist both within and outside of the state’s traditional public education system.
Q: Who’s involved?
Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, House Education Committee chairman, and Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, a member of the Senate Education Committee, spent part of this week meeting with the governor and lawmakers to pitch an idea for STEM high schools tucked within universities or affiliated with businesses.
They brought with them Chris Widener, a former Ohio state senator, and David L. Burns, STEM Innovations Networks director for Battelle, the contractor at Idaho National Laboratory. Both Widener and Battelle helped create similar schools in Ohio beginning in 2008.
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Q: What’s happening in Idaho now?
Idaho is putting an emphasis on STEM education as a way to increase the number of higher-paying jobs in Idaho. Gov. Butch Otter has proposed more than $14 million this year to promote STEM education. Burns said more STEM students are needed to enter the workforce and offset the number of those retiring. “It’s critical to your survival as a business,” he said.
Q: How would STEM high schools take shape in Idaho?
Details are sketchy. Nonini and DeMordaunt say Ohio offers a good road map.
They have already plowed that field. Let’s learn from them and take the best of their learning
Reed DeMordaunt, House Education Committee chair, on Ohio’s experience
Q: What happened in Ohio?
One of its 19 STEM schools, the Global Impact STEM Academy in Springfield, has an agricultural science focus and therefore would fit well in Idaho, Nonini said. “Every legislator needs to ... be involved in it,” Nonini said. “Idaho should be doing this.” The academy is involved in what Widener calls lab coat agriculture, not “plows, sows and cows.”
Q: Do they work?
The schools boast a 100 percent graduation rate; 44 percent of the students go on to major in STEM fields in college, compared to 14 percent nationally, said Burns. The schools are open to anyone, and students can earn college credit. Schools can be part of traditional school districts, but also included at colleges such as Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Widener said.
STEM high schools drop traditional methods in favor of problem-based learning, in which students solve real-world issues. “They are in team-taught environments,” Widener said. “There are two or three teachers at a time working on math, English and science all at one time.”
Q: What are the drawbacks?
The schools struggle to find teachers who are properly trained, Widener said. And parental engagement needs improvement. Some families don’t have the technology at home to help their students with their work.
10,000 Number of students in 19 STEM high schools in Ohio
Q: How about Idaho?
DeMordaunt would like to see schools launched first outside of Idaho’s traditional school system. The system “struggles to change itself,” DeMordaunt said. He said there’s too much “navel-gazing” and people saying, “Oh, we can’t do that here.” Traditional public education could see what is done in other settings, then begin to incorporate that into instruction, he said.
Q: What might have to change?
DeMordaunt said funding for STEM high schools might need to move off Idaho’s traditional model based on average daily attendance toward money that supports students gaining mastery of subjects. Schools might need to scuttle the typical bell schedule for getting through the day, and also consider bringing businesspeople in to teach, he said.