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'STEM Careers' Means Engineering to Parents, not Teaching

While 90 percent of parents say they would encourage their kids to pursue a career in STEM, what they really mean is a career in engineering. What they definitely don't want is a child who decides to pursue STEM teaching. A new survey by Harris Poll of 644 parents of children under 18 living in the household found that only 9 percent said they would encourage their kids to become teachers of science, technology, engineering or math.

The poll was undertaken on behalf of the American Society for Quality (ASQ), a worldwide organization that promotes a "culture of quality" in manufacturing, government, healthcare and other segments through emphasis of disciplines such as Six Sigma, Lean and other quality methodologies.

The survey found that while 90 percent of parents said they would encourage pursuit of a STEM career, nearly as many (87 percent) said they would be "concerned" if the focus were in teaching of STEM subjects. Half of respondents said they'd prefer their children to pursue a job as an engineer; 41 percent suggested a career as a doctor; and 27 percent would advise computer/IT analyst.

ASQ itself also conducted a poll among K-12 educators. Even among that population of respondents, most — 74 percent — said they would push engineering; 44 percent would promote a role as a scientist; and 33 percent would choose computer/IT analyst as their child's career. Only 3 in 10 (29 percent) said they'd encourage their own children to get into STEM teaching.

The biggest concern about the teaching field is pay. Seven in 10 parents surveyed by Harris and nearly 8 in 10 teachers (77 percent) polled by ASQ expressed worry that their child wouldn't make enough money as a teacher. In fact, 65 percent of the parents suggested that a career in STEM teaching wouldn't even be worth the cost of a college degree. Among the educators, two-thirds said STEM teaching would lack a path for career advancement. A similar number said they'd feel differently if there were more opportunities for career growth.

ASQ leadership finds that outcome for STEM teaching to be troubling. "While STEM careers like engineering and software development are getting more well deserved attention in recent years, it's STEM teachers who will equip our youth with the knowledge and skills to gather and evaluate evidence, make sense of information across a wide range of fields and solve tough problems," pointed out ASQ CEO William Troy in a prepared statement.

The results may also worry the White House. In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama announced an "ambitious goal" of preparing 100,000 STEM teachers "with strong teaching skills and deep content knowledge" over the next decade. The 100Kin10 coalition of companies, government agencies and foundations came together as a response, with the goal of supporting that commitment by offering professional development, workshops and other training initiatives.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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