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Report: Rural schools struggle to get access to STEM teachers and programs

“This is an indication we don't have enough teachers with the right background,” said Branstad

Makayla Lindermann, 10, left, and Leah Cilek, 9, both of Solon, look to teacher Kate Douglas for help with a play-dough project during the Corridor STEM school at Iowa City West High School on Wednesday, July 16, 2008. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Makayla Lindermann, 10, left, and Leah Cilek, 9, both of Solon, look to teacher Kate Douglas for help with a play-dough project during the Corridor STEM school at Iowa City West High School on Wednesday, July 16, 2008. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Rural school districts struggle to get access to STEM teachers and programs compared to their counterparts, according to highlights of a report being released later this week.

The 200-page report was compiled by researchers at the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Iowa for the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, which meets Thursday in Ankeny.

STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Gov. Terry Branstad created the advisory council in July 2011 in an effort entice more schoolchildren and college students to be interested in STEM careers.

But there is a gap between rural and urban parents in how well they think their children are being prepared in the subjects.

According to the report, 62 percent of urban parents think their child is “very well prepared” in STEM subjects, compared to 37 percent of rural parents. Ninety percent of the parents surveyed agreed their child “does well in elementary math/science and has some advanced skills in high school STEM subjects.”

Overall, only one in four Iowans has heard of STEM specifically, but nearly two-thirds of Iowans have heard about improving STEM education in general.

“It does show we have a problem,” Branstad said. “This is an indication we don’t have enough teachers with the right background.”

Branstad said higher starting teacher salaries required as part of the state’s education reform package should help the state recruit more teachers with STEM backgrounds. He added the new law allows school districts to start teachers with backgrounds in hard-to-fill positions, such as science and math, at higher levels.“We’re working with STEM licensure to help students who are going into the education field to help students get a STEM endorsement with their teaching certificate,” Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said. “This has been a great initiative for us to identify the areas that need the additional resources.”

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