Building on the legacy of Governor Rockefeller, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF) supports the success of all Arkansas children. For more than 40 years, WRF has invested in research and systems change that improve educational outcomes for our students. We believe all Arkansans fare better when our children have equitable access to high-quality educational opportunities.
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education must prepare all students to succeed in the jobs our state needs to build a more prosperous future. In 2014, there were 2.4 STEM jobs available for every unemployed person in Arkansas, and employers continue to struggle to find individuals with the basic skills required to fill these positions. This gap between the skills Arkansas residents lack and the jobs employers have available prevents growth in our state's science and technology industries.
Arkansas has historically been – and will continue to be – a working poor state unless we take action now. Based on WRF's Expect More Arkansas: Our Jobs, Our Future, 70 percent of jobs in Arkansas currently require a high school diploma or less, and the majority of these low-skill jobs pay less than a family-supporting wage. Data suggests that if we do not produce and retain trained STEM professionals, Arkansas will continue to be a state of poverty. We will not let past data determine our future.
That is why we must provide students first-class STEM instruction to prepare them for success in college and the workplace. A step in the right direction, the Arkansas State Board of Education voted to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards in 2014, which are now being implemented on a rolling basis in classrooms across the state. These internationally benchmarked standards have been adopted by 26 states across the US and provide clear and consistent guidelines for preparing students to enter math and science careers and succeed.
Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards will dramatically improve students' access to in-class learning opportunities in STEM subjects. However, to prepare our students to master the skills they need to be innovative leaders in STEM fields, we must provide hands-on learning experiences that expand students' understanding of the world and how it works beyond the walls of a classroom. What's Working in STEM Education in Arkansas is part of WRF’s sustained commitment to documenting best practices through our What’s Working in Arkansas Series. As with past publications, we want to spotlight successful programs, practices, and approaches with an eye toward how these successes can be scaled throughout the state.
WRF's investigation of what works in how educators are providing STEM learning experiences to students in Arkansas has been guided by four education priorities:
WRF will continue to use our resources to promote policies and systems that ensure all Arkansas children have the opportunity to learn. What's Working in STEM Education in Arkansas invites educators, policymakers, foundations, and concerned residents to become informed and join the discussion. We hope this is a meaningful step in our collective endeavor to ensure all Arkansas's students graduate ready to expect more of themselves, their communities, and our state's future.