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STEM Education Stressed at Forum

Orange County Issues Its 18th Annual Conditions of Children Report

Jan. 10, 2013

The well-being of Orange County’s kids was the topic Jan. 9 at a Community Engagement Forum at Cal State Fullerton during the second of five forums presenting the 18th annual Report on the Conditions of Children. Sponsored by Orange County, the report is produced each year by the university's Center for Community Collaboration.

This year's report, which includes a special section on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), concludes that the STEM pipeline is “leaking badly.”

Research shows that the United States, once the world leader in STEM education, now ranks 25th in math and 17th in science. In Orange County, just 20 percent of high school students enroll in upper-level math courses; 14 percent enroll in chemistry courses; and 6 percent enroll in physics classes.

While Orange County students outperform their peers in mathematics and science statewide, school districts faced with financial and cultural barriers show performance disparities, forum organizers agreed.

At the Jan. 9 forum, Todd Salesky, founder of Brea Olinda High School’s Global IT Academy, introduced his program as an example of a STEM success story. The program, he said, heavily promotes STEM learning and has had success in securing college acceptances — many to Ivy League schools — for 100 percent of its graduates.

Academy students enroll in advanced math and science courses, receive college-level information technology instruction and take part in internships as part of the program. Salesky credits his success to partnerships with area universities, including CSUF, Cal Poly Pomona and UC Irvine; high-tech businesses and community groups.

“Collaboration is the key,” he said. “Success goes hand-in-hand with everything you do to help Orange County’s kids.”

Michelle G. Berelowitz, director of the Center for Community Collaboration, agreed, adding that forging partnerships among agencies is one of the best ways to address the needs of the county’s youth. 

According to the report:

  • Orange County births have been decreasing for the past 15 years, and about 10 percent of newborns are delivered prematurely.
  • In 2010, 47 percent of OC’s children were Hispanic, 32 percent were Caucasian, 15 percent were Asian American and Pacific Islander, 1.3 percent were African American and 5 percent were identified as “other.”
  • OC’s public school districts are spending less on educating students. During the 2010-11 school year, the average expenditure per pupil in the county was $7,722. The state average was $8,323, and the national average was $10,770. The county spent $8,724 per pupil in 2008.
  • Kids living in poverty continue to score lower on math and reading tests than their peers from higher-income families, and 45 percent (2 percent more than in 2008) of OC’s total public school enrollment qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson said the annual report is an important measure of performance for the county’s social service agencies and schools.

“Our report gives us data that speaks to how we’re doing, how we're measuring our progress, and how we’re going to make a difference so we know that what we’re doing is more than just talk,” Nelson said. “It helps us focus, again every year, on where we need to redouble our efforts to improve the lives of children in Orange County.”

To obtain a free copy of the report, call the Center for Community Collaboration at 657-278-5681. Photos of the forum are available on Flickr.

By: Mimi Ko Cruz, 657-278-7586

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