The STEM Pipeline is Broken

Creating the next generation of STEM Teachers for “TECS” - Technology, Engineering, & Computer Science needs a new model for teacher development and production.

Developing this next generation of teacher talent requires the collaboration of a heterogeneous network of universities, technical colleges, school districts, business and industry, and informal STEM student competitions. This network of collaborators will form a rich, fertile, productive Community of Practice that will transform teacher and student development, and will lead to greater success and prosperity.

To learn more, read this report, “The STEM Pipeline is Broken.” (look for the FIRST stuff)](


Thank you for posting this. I think California is starting to wake up to this issue as well.

From my POV its site admin don’t want to invest the money because the district isn’t asking them to. The district isn’t asking them to because they don’t want to invest the money since the state isn’t asking them to. And so on.

But they’ll spend $3.5M on artificial turf fields as an investment… in what, I’m not sure. (School’s get shiny new fields)

Although I’ve only just skimmed this report, it looks excellent, perhaps one of the most excellent I’ve seen on the issue. You need to get this into the hands of the right people at the California Department of Education.

The problem with education addressing technical workforce needs is simply the people. The Education sector by and large is filled with dare I say it, the wrong kinds of people to implement these types of changes. There’s a certain mindset, attitude, and personality required for engineering type work and studies, and most people in the education sector just don’t have it. And changing people in education is a slow process, that often happens just one retirement at a time.

To me, things will start improving when education as a whole can embrace the following:

  • Competitive salaries with other similarly-qualified professionals in private industry. Without competitive salaries, you’re not attracting the best people to the profession. The best people are going places where they can make more money.
  • Opportunities to earn a salary year round by working year round. If you’re a teacher, you are paid to work for 186 days out of the year. Not all teachers want to just lounge around for the other days. That’s not why we all became one. I want to work harder for the school and district, but it needs to be compensated. Living expenses don’t vanish for two months out of the year.
  • Salary-based incentives for teachers to work harder and/or longer/extra hours to prepare and improve their programs. Currently in education, why would anyone work harder, when they would make the same amount of money by working as (minimally) hard as everyone else. Let there be time-and-a-half overtime. Right now if you work extra hours, which would be considered overtime in most private industry, you make “half”, honestly, because it’s different work that they value less than classroom instruction, and they pay you LESS than your standard hourly rate.
  • Different pay for different work, and the opportunity to advance up the salary schedule faster by working harder, not just based on years of service. Why do senior teachers who race to beat each other out of the school parking lot at 3:00 each afternoon earn double that of a second or third year teacher who is staying until 6:00 or 7:00 PM every day to build his or her curriculum and lab? The proverbial dangling carrot needs to be a larger carrot, dangled closer to the teachers earlier in their career. In our district, the salary for new teachers is flatlined with no advancement for 5 years
    . How depressing is that? - Why does a teacher who has only a class set of desks, chairs, and textbooks to take care of make the same amount as a teacher who has to install, configure, repair, and maintain technology, equipment, supplies, and machinery?
  • Reduction in equity between teachers. Recognize that certain people, regardless of number of years of service, are worth more, because of what they do and/or how they do it.
  • Reduction in the amount of red tape and hoops new teachers need to jump through just to become one. You look at it, and it’s like, “who would ever want to sign up for this?”
  • Reduction in the bureaucratic BS at the state level. Say you are credentialed to teach engineering with a Bachelor’s degree that included up through multi-variable Calculus and Differential equations, and you’ve been teaching many years, and you then want to teach a class period of Algebra or Geometry, you can’t, because your credential does not authorize that. And to gain that credential, there is no clear path for it to simply be added. You start over, from scratch, just like any fresh college grad off the street. Who would do it?
  • Many smaller high schools would be reluctant to hire a full time person for just engineering type courses. But if that person could also teach a section of math or Physics, you’ve hit the jackpot. But they can’t because of the above.
  • Reduction in administrator turnover and reassignment. The average time a school principal serves the same school and site is only like 3 or 5 years. It takes longer to implement a vision.

There’s plenty of qualified individuals who are working in industry, that would make wonderful teachers, and likely even have the desire to do so, but when you look at the pay cut they’d be taking, they would be setting themselves back YEARS in life financially.

So in essence, I think we all recognize the problem, and the potential fix, but I’m not too hopeful that much of anything will change. And it’s not like there hasn’t been dollars for it. There’s been more dollars pumped into this initiative than you could ever believe. But it’s been a lot of the wrong people directing where it goes.

Yes, engaging in a career that you enjoy is not all about the money, but there are still bills to pay, and that’s not a fact that can just be ignored.

I have a BSE in Mechanical Engineering, and over 15 years experience as a Cutting tool designer, manufacturer, application engineer, and management. In 2005, when it was getting to be the darkest in Michigan for the economy, I was offered a job at the local high school. Having family obligations, and in need of medical insurance for my special needs son, I not only took a more than 50% drop in pay but I also had to get certified to teach through the work of 83 credit hours at the university. I am now certified to teach Technology, Math, and Physics.

Enjoying the job is fantastic, but you still need to be able to pay the bills. If it wasn’t for the possibility of a pension and health care when I am old, I would probably be forced to go back into industry. 

This list is beautiful.
Thank you for taking the time to write it out! Unfortunately in California (and every other state I assume), the focus is more on protecting status quo than pushing for progress.

I recently tried to convince my site admin we needed to offer a ROP engineering course (or multiple). I was told that to teach CTE courses you need “industry experience”. Which excludes me because I only have a BS in Physics and 6 years of FRC experience.

I have one assistant principal (and maybe the principal) who are willing to fight for district support of robotics/STEM education. Maybe this will be the year…

It is less than explicitly explained, but if you look on page 31 of the report you will see ‘Industry’ as a component of the teacher development pipeline process.

The candidate will spend quality extended time working in industry, the same way candidates do teacher practicum, in their journey to becoming a teacher.

So in the spirit of Stronghold, that gets you past that barrier, and it is off to the next one…

Do you have any California university candidates ?

It seems like maybe Cal Poly might be a good fit ? I think they are doing 4-year engineering + a year or so more for the teacher credentials already. I’m not really sure about that.

Streamlining it into a TECS program would fix it at 4 years, and eliminate some costs and burdens.

Maybe San Diego State ? I don’t know enough about the system yet. Maybe UCSD ? They seem to have enough assets to get it done.


This right here is the number one reason while I have a strong interest in teaching, I remain in the industry as a manufacturing engineer. Years as in at least 5-10 years.

Ed, I can’t say it enough: Your work and the work of your team is astounding.

I am in awe at what you have created and continue to do. It’s an amazing program that you have an definitely an inspiration to us.

Competitive salaries with other similarly-qualified professionals in private industry. Without competitive salaries, you’re not attracting the best people to the profession. The best people are going places where they can make more money.

There’s plenty of qualified individuals who are working in industry, that would make wonderful teachers, and likely even have the desire to do so, but when you look at the pay cut they’d be taking, they would be setting themselves back YEARS in life financially.

This exactly. I remember nearing the end of high school when its time to choose where to go and what to study having two conflicting desires. I was really good at math and enjoyed everything to do with it and often had my math teachers ask if I was going to become a math teacher after college. And after doing robotics for 4 years I also was considering going for Mechanical Engineering. However being realistic and doing the math behind average salaries and such between the two it definitely influenced me to chose to do Engineering. Even now if an opportunity ever arose for me to change over to teaching STEM or Math of some sort at a rate that is comparable to what engineering prospects are I’d consider it all the way. But all those points you listed are all real reasons why students are staying away.

That’s a very interesting proposal. I understood many of the points you were making. However, as an engineer, not an educator, I’m trying to make sense of some of the conclusions and recommendations.

It appears you are essentially cultivating secondary school teachers with similar technical skills to those in higher education at a community college. Do you hope to do this in every high school or at least every district?

As a student in this system, would I earn a high school diploma plus some type of certificate or associates degree? Or am I earning credits for higher education?

The list of 42 courses has everything from engineering foundations plus items like 4 very specific energy courses. It seems like there are courses beyond the benefit of providing a students chance to explore STEM careers. How was this list determined?


In a nutshell

Nationally there are 16 defined career clusters, that have a set of pathways within each cluster. Upon these definitions, the Fed’s provide funding through Perkins grants.

Each state can then have their set of clusters, and pathways, that may or may not align with the Feds. Georgia has 17 clusters, one more than the feds. You can see those clusters here

Within each cluster is a pathway. For example,in Georgia, the IT cluster has a Internet of Things (Embedded Programming)

If you go through each course that needs to be taught, you can define a teacher development pipeline to support those courses.

What the “TECS” model does is narrow the generalized STEM educator challenge to a narrow focus, of Technology, Engineering, Computer Science, and then we build a teacher pipeline to support those 42 courses.

Nationally universities have developed structure to deliver Math and Science teachers, but not really the TECS oriented ones. That is what we are specifically working to address.

The degree proposal is for students entering a traditional university, like the one a few miles from you, and becoming a teacher, much like someone goes into music ed, math ed, science ed, etc…

Right now, nationally, there is a great deal of churn, chaos, hyperbole, STEM-washing, etc, etc from people trying to fix the STEM teacher issue. The report sweeps aside peripheral issues and focuses on fixing a specific slice of the teacher development problem.

This is not a high school degree program. It prepares high school graduates to become K-12 teachers.

Adjacent field models don’t generally work too well, ie. math or biology teachers becoming engineering teachers,etc

Career Change (engineers changing careers) models don’t work so well either for a bunch of reasons.

Burden Shift models such as becoming an engineer then getting teacher papers,just to teach, isn’t helpful either. It puts a high academic and financial cost on the potential candidate,and still really doesn’t align teacher preparation with classroom needs.

We understand purpose built teachers for math, science, music, reading, etc.

It is time to make purpose built teachers for TECS.

NSF is promoting a similarly related model called ATE, or Advanced Technology Education.

If you make it as far as page 30, you will see a model that loosely illustrates using FIRST programs as a teacher development tool in addition to the traditional role of FIRST as a student inspiration tool.

ITEEA and emerging Georgia PSC standards require that teachers learn the engineering design process. See the BLUE highlighted phrases on page 36. FIRST programs can be implemented to teach teachers that process.

The model sets up the teacher to be prepared to support a FIRST team when they enter practice.

The model also is set up to recruit teacher development candidates from FIRST alumni that are entering college.

Related to this model is something that is happening here in Georgia

Cobb County School District, the 24th largest in the nation, with 112,700 students, is planning to implement a robotics lab in every school. There are 114 schools in the district, 67 Elementary Schools, 25 Middle Schools, 16 High Schools, plus a few others.

So yes, we need an aggressive teacher development pipeline in Georgia to support the growth.

Thanks Ed, That clears up my confusion.

It’s definitely an important topic. I’ve been a spectator watching the STEM churn as you describe it. Your direct approach to developing technology teachers seems the only logical choice.


Justin Time:
Frustration. Burnout. Attrition. It’s Time To Address The National Teacher Shortage

I left professional engineering to become a teacher 25 years ago.
50% pay cut. I still make half of what my former peers now earn.
I’m not complaining, I live in America, and have a more generous lifestyle than any of my ancestors could have imagined.

Teaching is a lot like engineering. You design, execute, and iterate. The project is never finished.
Rather than physical mechanisms, you are working with organic minds.
The raw materials aren’t to spec and the customer is a manifold compilation of the student, parent, administration, community, state, nation, and planet.

The build season is 40 weeks. I started this morning at 6:30 am, 25 minutes for lunch, left at 4:00pm. I am now taking break from preparing for tomorrow at 9:00 pm to write this. Waking up at 4:00 am to finish my preparation.
Our team’s season began last Monday. (Not even going to detail the time vampire that is FIRST. Not complaining either.)

I foolishly thought that becoming teacher would be easier than being an engineer.
I was so wrong.
Between the pressures of creating five engaging “dog & pony shows” with activities a day, assessing the work of all my students in a timely manner, meeting the standards set by the powers that be and the public to justify my work, and the low compensation rate, I am not surprised that many qualified engineers would say “No Thanks” to the prospect of becoming a teacher in STEM.

A difficult student of mine took the time last Friday during a football game to thank me for making them write down their data, draw a picture, formulas, and include units with all of their numbers. They said that Chemistry was a breeze because of what I made them do.

These students are going to pay for our retirement and can make the world an even better place.

Glad that I chose to become a teacher.
Engineers, please consider this profession.
You will be challenged but you won’t be disappointed.