Another STEM School? Really?

Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra thinks we need more STEM schools.

He has introduced legislation that will create a state-chartered STEM school in Los Angeles county. According to Bocanegra, in a press release that was deleted from his website,

“The next Mark Zuckerburg, Mae Jemison, or person who makes a breakthrough in science could be living in Pacoima, Boyle Heights, or South LA, but many students living in these communities don’t have the opportunity to attend a High School with advanced STEM subjects.  AB 1217 will give more children the chance to become our future innovators.”

This begs the question – Do we need more STEM schools?

First, you have magnet schools of which there are 97 STEM magnets. They are located pretty evenly across Los Angeles’s county. The map on the Choices website is out of date, so here is an updated version.

Click the map for an interactive version

In all, these STEM magnets served 35,560 students in 2016-17. And that number is going to grow to over 40,000 in the next few years. That is almost 10% of LAUSD’s entire student population attending specialized schools for STEM.

Then you have small learning communities at the high schools. There are STEM programs at Roosevelt High, Bernstein High, Legacy STEAM, Engineering and Technology and Esteban Torres….the list goes on.

Add to that the charter schools that focus on STEM. There are about 31 charter schools that have a reference to science, technology, engineering or mathematics in their names. But that is just based on their names. A lot of schools have STEM programs without adding it to their name, like KIPP Ignite which just won $100,000 to build out their program.

There are a lot of STEM schools. Heck, I work at one!

And I think part of the reason for the proliferation has to do with how easy a term it is to throw around. The term STEM has been used to the point that it has almost lost its meaning. What is it? Is making slime STEM? How bout popsicle-stick bridges? Using google classroom? Or what about students sitting silently in a classroom while they work on I think you’ll get a variety of answers there, depending on who you ask.

This is what we need our state legislators to be working on. We currently have no way to evaluate whether any of the so-called STEM programs are successfully implementing a rigorous STEM curriculum.

Sure, there is testing for Math and Science, which (mostly) evaluate those skills in isolation. And the state is moving toward computer science standards. But the idea behind STEM is integration – between those subjects and into the whole curriculum.

How can we tell if a school is doing this? That is a project that I think Assemblymember Bocanegra might be wise to pursue.


One Reply to “Another STEM School? Really?”

  1. Mean Old Man says:


    The heat may be getting to Mr. Bocanegra. It is hot out there. Not to mention the pressure to get re-elected. Now that will light a fire under you! All half-kidding aside, STEMS are fine, and yes, they are losing their meaning, but the are otherwise harmless; what we really don’t need is a “state-chartered” one, whatever that means. And if his STEM is a Magnet, then we really really don’t need that and no, that is not harmless.

    We also don’t need our legislators to be working on an evaluation system. My goodness, we can’t afford to waste more money on things that should already be being done by NAEP, SBAC, and the School Dashboard, not to mention various local accountability schemes, regular teacher grades and administrative review (+STULLS). If legislators should be working on anything, it should be to stem (get it?) the tide of Charters and Magnets that we are currently drowning in. I’m talking way beyond the current efforts of the unions, who are in bed themselves with affiliated Charters and beholden to the very parents who send their kids to Charters and Magnets.

    In the meantime, let’s strengthen our traditional schools: widen the curriculum with more foreign language, art, and computer (coding) classes, not only at high school, but all the way down to 1st grade; lower class sizes, especially in the most challenging neighborhoods; make sure real reading and writing is happening in the classroom; do a better job attracting and keeping good teachers; and stop making it ridiculously difficult for the adults at schools to discipline the children (when necessary).

    Alas, local communities who want to brand their schools as STEMs will soon notice that nothing has changed. Maybe 5 years from now you will be writing a similar article about the glut of DREAMS schools. Until them, stay cool (you too, Mr. Bocanegra).

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