WALNUT CREEK -- There is a huge need for more students to be skilled in science, technology, engineering and math for future jobs.
And state legislators and educators are working on a blueprint to make that happen.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and other members of a task force on the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM initiative, shared a preview of its findings Friday morning.
Making sure learning is relevant and exciting for students, that STEM is promoted during teacher-training programs, equipping schools with up-to-date technology, forging business partnerships and exposing students to science and math at an early age are among the task force's recommendations.
"There is a great need for innovators to keep California on the cutting-edge and improving our quality of life," Torlakson said. "Our STEM students today will be our future consumers, our future business and community leaders. Understanding science is critical for decision-making."
About 75 East Bay school administrators, teachers and members of the business community attended the event hosted by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, and her Assembly committee on STEM. The full report will be released at a later date.
STEM jobs are growing twice as fast as non-STEM jobs, with the demand expected to increase to 1.07 million by 2018, said Chris Roe, chief executive officer of the state's STEM Learning Network.
However, only 6 percent of students who enter ninth grade go on to earn a STEM degree, Roe said in his presentation.
Randy Fischback, a Dow Chemical Co. spokesman, said his company works with local school districts and community colleges, including the PTEC program at Pittsburg's Los Medanos College. The company has a dearth of skilled workers, he said.
"Education needs to catch up to where our workforce is," Bonilla said.
Also discussed is the gap between male and females that pursue STEM-related degrees and how the ethnic makeup of those that pursue STEM degrees becomes less diverse as the educational level jumps.
Tory Full, a Northgate High senior and head of a student group called Women in Science and Engineering, said only a quarter of women were going into sciences.
Both Bonilla and Torlakson said more needed to be done to help support women and minorities and keep them engaged and pique their curiosity, particularly in elementary and middle school.
Friday's event also gave local school districts and businesses a chance to share how they are growing the STEM program.
Antioch Unified Superintendent Donald Gill mentioned that the district recently worked with San Jose-based SunPower, nonprofit Projtect Lead the Way and Chevron for the design and installation of solar panels at 20 school sites. It will also use the construction of the panels with Antioch's career-based pathways program to show kids system design, fabrication, installation, monitoring and how to decipher energy-generation data.
The emphasis on STEM comes as California switches to computer-based assessments aligned to Common Core standards that measure student readiness for careers and college.
"With new standards and new assessments, we have a rare chance to remodel our education from the ground up," Torlakson said. "Kids need very different knowledge and skills today and tomorrow than they did 15 years ago."
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.