A new report from the respected Brookings Institution focuses on economic well-being related to manufacturing growth potential in the Bluegrass region, specifically the “Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement,” or BEAM region. This region includes counties in Indiana near Louisville along with Jefferson County and its surrounding counties and other counties running east to Lexington.
In “Seizing the Manufacturing Moment: An Economic Growth Plan for the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky,” Brookings notes that the BEAM area is:
“…a distinctive region of ‘makers’—manufacturing that creates quality jobs and drives innovation from Ford and Toyota motor vehicles, to state-of-the-art GE appliances, from the sprawling plants of those major multi-nationals to more than 1,600 firms producing a wide variety of goods, including 97 percent of the world’s bourbon.”
But, the report points to chilling statistics that show the Bluegrass region is workforce challenged to meet aspirations for future growth in manufacturing.
“Kentucky and the BEAM region significantly trail national averages on measures of its engineering and technical workforce. It ranks in the bottom 10 percent on most: 48th among the states in the percentage of college degrees awarded that are in engineering and natural sciences, 48th in the percentage of technology workers in the labor force.”
Given that more than two decades have passed since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA), this is a truly stunning revelation. Since the early days of KERA, Kentuckians have been inundated with claims about all the progress supposedly achieved in the Bluegrass State’s schools.
Well, that progress is apparently seriously inadequate when we are talking about getting more of our children ready for real careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Worse, while Kentucky clearly has a long way to go in the STEM catch up game, the state’s new education game plan isn’t a winner.
The new Kentucky Core Academic Standards, which are totally derived from the Common Core State Standards for math and from the Next Generation Science Standards for science, offer little likelihood that many of our students will have an opportunity to be fully prepared for STEM courses in the future.
The new math standards cut off with Algebra II. The standards never even consider at least two more years of high school math coursework through the minimum of pre-calculus that STEM career hopefuls need.
The state’s new science standards cut off at the end of 10th grade biology, omitting for the most part everything STEM hopefuls need in chemistry and physics, or basically the last two years of meaningful science courses for students who want careers in science.
Because these advanced math and science courses are not in the state’s standards, our schools have no requirement to offer them. Furthermore, our state’s education leaders have no plan or method to evaluate the quality of those courses in any schools that voluntarily decide to provide a full STEM preparation track.
Turning your back on the last two years of coursework needed to go into STEM careers is a terrible way to improve the state’s performance in this area, but that is what our education leaders have done.
So, if the mayors of Louisville and Lexington, who are the driving force behind the new Brookings report, really are serious about “Seizing the Manufacturing Moment,” they need to pay some serious attention to the state’s new standards. Because, while the Kentucky Core Academic Standards claim they are focused on STEM preparation, the truth is the new standards lack the follow-through required to really make it happen for our students, and our economy.