among school types (traditional, STEM, and charter or magnet).10 For example, STEM schools appear to have more new teachers (26 percent, as compared with 21 percent for traditional schools and 23 percent for the charter and magnet schools). STEM schools also are significantly more likely to offer vocational and technical courses (41 percent, compared with 18 and 19 percent for the other types, respectively). At the same time, students in STEM-focused schools take more advanced courses, as might be expected. Hansen was particularly interested in whether expanding access to STEM instruction generally would mean decreased opportunities for high-achieving students, and whether intense focus on STEM for all students would crowd out learning in other subjects. His early findings suggest the possibility that the availability of more advanced courses may tend to push marginal students into lower-track courses. He and his colleagues did not find any negative effects for achievement in reading when more STEM courses were offered.
Hansen also explored whether students in underrepresented minority groups respond differently to variation in STEM opportunities, and, more broadly, whether current approaches are improving STEM outcomes for all students or just those already interested in STEM. His results suggested that when more advanced courses are offered, there is a “pretty strong negative effect” on students who are members of underrepresented minority groups. In other words, “there appears to be a tradeoff” between helping students who are already doing well in STEM subjects and expanding access for all students. The data also suggest benefit from opportunities to conduct research projects in science and from exposure to instruction that was project-based rather than lecture-based. From the preliminary data, Hansen suggested that it appears that teacher characteristics, such as years of experience, are correlated with outcomes for students. From these findings, Hansen concluded that it is important for policy makers to be precise about their goals for STEM education and to focus on specific attributes. But, he added, “we are just beginning to scratch the surface of these databases.”
10For definitions of these school types, see Hansen (2011).