Op-Ed: To Stem Shortfall of Math Competencies, Start Early

Monday, October 26, 2015

Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-32
By Rep. Ruth Kagi, 32nd Legislative District

During my 17 years in the Washington state legislature, I’ve made it a priority to fight for our public education system. We’ve made substantial progress in transforming classrooms across the state into inclusive environments that foster learning and prepare our children for adult life, but the job is far from finished. The legislature must fully fund our K-12 schools, including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.

In Seattle’s high-tech economy, it’s critically important that we create a STEM-skilled workforce that is prepared to meet the needs of our local employers — from Boeing to Microsoft to Amazon and beyond. Since 2005, King County alone has added more than 50,000 technology-related jobs. In 2011, 20 percent of all U.S. jobs – 26 million positions – required knowledge in at least one STEM field. That number is estimated to grow 17 percent by 2018, compared with only 9.8 percent growth for all other fields combined.

In my role as Chair of the Early Learning and Human Services Committee, I’ve seen firsthand the challenges of ensuring that our youngest learners are getting the early education opportunities necessary to prepare them for elementary and secondary classroom environments. The budget we passed this year makes a historic investment of $159 million in early learning, which will increase educational success and save millions of dollars in special education and repeated grades. Even still, by the time our students reach high school, their math and science scores will lag behind dozens of other developed countries unless we do a better job creating STEM programs for our littlest learners.

I’ve had conversations with numerous educators in my district, and when I ask them how they account for our nation’s sliding competencies the answers almost always come back to classroom funding. While the legislature must significantly increase funding for K-12 education, many citizens, local businesses and community organizations are working together to fund innovative initiatives that provide students with hands-on learning opportunities and arm them with the critical skills they will need to succeed in jobs of the future.

Students need materials like games, science projects and books to explore science, math, engineering and technology, but too often teachers end up using their own money to buy these materials for their students. Nationally, teachers spend an average of $400 annually for materials and supplies for their classrooms. Based on my conversations with teachers at Broadview-Thompson K-8 School, (in North Seattle) our local teachers typically spend more than the national average to ensure their students have the necessary learning materials.

Community-based organization and corporations can play an important role in making it easy for communities to support their local schools. For example, I recently participated in a classroom event at Broadview-Thomson K-8 School in Greenwood that was put together by the Fuel Your School program, a collaboration between DonorsChoose.org and Chevron.

During my visit to Broadview-Thompson K-8 School, kindergarteners were deeply engaged in a lesson using hands-on materials provided with help from this funding program. The classroom received a large box of games, books and project materials because our neighbors filled up their tanks at local participating Chevron stations during the month of October.

Here in King County, residents helped generate $600,000 last year that funded materials and school supplies, requested by local teachers for their classrooms. The Fuel Your School program is taking place again – right now – donating $1, up to another $600,000, to K-12 public schools when consumers fuel up with eight or more gallons at participating Chevron and Texaco stations during the month of October. (See previous article)

I’ll continue the fight in Olympia, but I’m also asking you to support the many outside funding opportunities that exist to support our children’s education. I encourage all of you to spread the word about the opportunity to support STEM, donate to charities and online funding organizations like DonorsChoose.org, contribute to your school foundation and volunteer at your local school. A little goes a long way. We all have the opportunity—and responsibility—to work together to ensure our students receive a world-class education from the very beginning.

Updated 10-30-2015

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