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Pioneer Editorial: Franken bill would fund STEM help

If Minnesota is to compete in the global marketplace, Minnesota students must become more proficient in STEM skills -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Sen. Al Franken, DFL-Minn., announced Thursday that he will introduce legislation that will invest in STEM education, a good first step.

Sen. Franken's legislation would establish a STEM Master Teacher Corps for top K-12 teachers. The master teachers in the program would mentor beginning or less effective teachers, in addition to networking with one another and sharing best practices and classroom resources.

Master teachers would also be compensated for their teaching skills and new leadership roles. The concept is based on a proposal by President Obama's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.

Sen. Franken, a statement, notes that the state Department of Employment and Economic Development believes that 18 out of 20 fastest growing occupations will be tied to STEM disciplines, and economic forecasts project that scientific and technical occupations in Minnesota will increase by at least twice the average growth rate over the next 10 years.

"Funding STEM education is a smart investment, but we need to be sure we're putting that money in the right place," said Sen. Franken. "New teachers need role models to look up to and get advice from. At the same time, more experienced, effective teachers need continued support, advancement opportunities, and recognition of their hard work to remain engaged. That's why I'll be introducing a bill to create a STEM Master Teacher Corps."

The 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress tests rank Minnesota eighth-graders second in math and sixth in science compared with other states, Sen. Franken said.. Despite the high rankings, only 47 percent of those students were deemed proficient in math and 40 percent in science.

We would urge Sen. Franken, however, to make special provisions for STEM programming in rural areas. Candidates for master STEM teachers may be easily found in more metro areas, but often most rural districts must share specialty teachers as they do not have their own certified to teach one or more of the disciplines.

There is a real need to spread such STEM master teachers in rural school districts, and support is also needed for rural institutions to teach them.

Bemidji State University, a well-known teacher's college, would be an ideal site for a rural STEM Master Teacher Corps training site, supplying STEM education to teachers in northwest Minnesota and beyond.