Readers React: Arne Duncan and the myth of a STEM shortage

Arne Duncan

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, seen here last March with President Obama, has called for improved access to science- and math-focused education. 

(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)

To the editor: It’s one thing for Arne Duncan, President Obama’s secretary of Education, to argue for students everywhere to have equal access to a full range of math and science courses; it’s quite another to imply that success in these subjects will lead to well-paying jobs. That’s because the present number of degree-holders in science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM) far exceeds the present demand for them, according to the Census Bureau. (“Arne Duncan: Where California schools need to put their money,” Op-Ed, Aug. 17)

Yet corporations persist in their demands to vastly raise the number of H-1B visas issued, claiming that

they cannot find enough qualified STEM workers domestically. It’s a manufactured crisis that does not stand up to scrutiny because the law does not require companies to recruit American workers before looking abroad.

The real reason is that imported STEM workers are willing to work for far lower wages.


Walt Gardner, Los Angeles

The writer is the author of Education Week’s Reality Check blog.

To the editor: Years ago, after graduating from MIT and working in the aerospace industry, I tutored students in algebra. I found that all of them had not mastered the essential basics of the subject.

Later, when it was reported that a large percentage of the kids could not satisfy the algebra requirement for high school graduation, several engineering retirees agreed to establish a program in which former aerospace industry workers (skilled in math) would volunteer to help students with algebra. I contacted a proactive member of the L.A. Unified School District’s Board of Education who liked the idea and suggested we meet to discuss moving the project forward. Shortly after, his secretary phoned me: There would be no meeting, because a high-ranking administrator would not permit such a project. There was no explanation given.


Duncan calls for our best engineers to play roles in advancing our kids’ abilities in STEM. Suggestion: Get the message to school officials first.

George Epstein, Los Angeles


To the editor: Too bad Duncan didn’t address the drastic drop in enrollment in teacher preparation programs across the country and in California. We have historically had problems attracting math and science teachers, who have been able to get much higher paying jobs in industry. It’s not getting any better.

In fact, I would really like to know where Duncan expects to find these teachers who will accept deteriorating conditions in schools while being subjected to public ridicule of their profession from the likes of him and his allies in the corporate world.

Perhaps Duncan should have discussed this first with Eli Broad, whose foundation reportedly wants to enroll half of all Los Angeles Unified School District students in charter schools staffed in part by Teach for America “graduates.” They receive only five weeks of training in lieu of a teaching credential and do not have to demonstrate expertise in the subjects they teach.

Sari Rynew, Studio City



To the editor: Duncan states that our efforts to increase access to STEM education must involve everyone. He includes states, school districts, technology developers, teacher prep programs, scientists, mathematicians and engineers.

He omits an important group: parents.

Lilia Martonak, Gardena

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