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Charter Schools Lead the Way on STEM

As originally posted on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce blog for Education and Workforce
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  Over the next decade, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the United States will create 9.2 million jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In order to fill these jobs, experts agree that we must adequately train our students in STEM fields. This is a critical step toward securing our economic competitiveness. It’s encouraging to see some of our nation’s best high schools embracing STEM education. Take a look at the U.S. News 2013 list of “best high schools in America” and you will find a number of schools with a strong focus on STEM workforce preparation – and many of these schools are charter schools. On a recent survey, one-fifth of all American charter schools reported that they have a specific STEM or math/science focus, and this number is growing. Among them are the Magnolia Science Academy, a high school in California, and the Denver School of Science and Technology in Colorado. Both are models of STEM-focused education, and both are public charter schools. At Magnolia Science Academy all students take a computer class every day and technology is integrated into core classes. Students learn how to design websites and effectively use the internet and curriculum that is aligned with National Educational Technology Standards. The school also sets a high bar in mathematics. In 2006, Magnolia student Zarathustra Brady became one of six U.S. students on the gold-medal winning national team at the International Mathematical Olympiad. Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST), a cluster of six public charter schools, focuses on bringing STEM education to low-income and minority students. Despite many incoming students performing below grade level, the school’s high standards foster a culture of achievement. Students take algebra-based physics in 9th grade and are expected to complete college-level coursework in science and engineering by the time they graduate. Thanks to its robust curriculum, the schools boast a 100 percent college acceptance rate. These examples are inspirational, but I believe we can do even more. Neither schools nor businesses can tackle this issue alone, but together we are poised for success. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which represents 2.3 million students in more than 6,000 schools, is working with charter schools across the country to connect them with STEM resources and ensure they are working with their local business communities to craft school curriculums that will prepare students for careers in STEM fields. The charter model is unique because it provides schools with the freedom and flexibility to align teaching to our evolving workforce needs. We’re grateful to chambers of commerce for playing such a critical leadership role in advancing STEM education and look forward to building strong alliances with business partners from coast-to-coast to better serve our nation’s students and their communities. Nina Rees is the president and CEO for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools