Raytheon Corporation, one of the state’s leading employers, recently conducted a survey of 1,000 middle school students across the country, and asked them if they prefer doing math homework or eating broccoli. The winner, with 56% of the vote was… broccoli. More middle school students would rather eat broccoli than do their math homework!
In a state, and indeed a nation, where we are competing in a technology driven global economy, this is humorous – but mostly troubling. Early math skills have been proven to be a predictor of later academic achievement. In fact, a recent article in Education Week cited a University of California, Irvine study which found that “early math concepts, such as knowledge of numbers and ordinality, were the most powerful predictors of later learning.” The article further cited a Canadian study which found that math skills at school entry predicted math skills and reading skills in 2nd and 3rd grade better than reading skills at school entry. If math skills are such an important component of academic success, and more children would rather be eating broccoli, we have a problem. This is important to Massachusetts’ long term competitiveness because today’s young children are tomorrow’s workforce, and workers who are fluent in math and other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) competencies will be more prepared and qualified to fill the jobs that our innovation economy demands.
As an employer organization, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable (MBR) is concerned about the state’s long term competitiveness and the pipeline of workers coming through the education system with the skills necessary to compete in a 21st century, global economy. Working with the Roundtable, the Patrick-Murray Administration, and Lt. Governor Tim Murray in particular, has shown tremendous leadership in focusing public policy on those very math skills that will help ensure this pipeline is producing talented workers that will drive the state’s economy into the future. Companies like Verizon, EMC, National Grid, MITRE, Raytheon, General Electric, and Comcast have taken a keen and active interest in this issue. And the state’s House of Representatives recently recommended a $1.5M appropriation to implement the state’s nationally recognized STEM agenda.
At the Department of Early Education and Care, we understand the important and powerful link between early childhood education and STEM, officially recognizing that “inquiry and exploration are foundations for math and science and are also the foundations for early learning.” Research confirms that the brain is particularly receptive to learning math and logic between the ages of 1 and 4. The link between early childhood and STEM is indisputable. Early exposure to STEM – whether it be in school, at a museum, a library, or just engaging in the natural trial and error of play – develops early critical thinking and reasoning skills and supports children’s overall academic growth.
There are no greater natural scientists and engineers than young children, inquisitive learners who learn STEM concepts through play. High-quality early learning environments provide children a structure in which to build upon their natural inclination to explore, to build, and to question. We must continue to connect these two agendas as we drive policy forward in each.
JD Chesloff is Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable and Chair of the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council Executive Committee in addition to his role as Chair of the Board of Early Education and Care. This commentary was originally posted in the Aspire Wire.