If there’s one thing on which Louisianians can agree, it’s the following mantra: “Beat Bama.” However, when it came to the key takeaway from a national expert’s recent speech on K-12 education, he could be forgiven for not realizing he would inspire something akin to an LSU pep rally.

Recently, the Baton Rouge region received a visit from Marcus Lingenfelter, vice president of state relations at the National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to transforming math and science education across the country. Lingenfelter spoke at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s semiannual Signature Speaker event, a thought leadership program sponsored by ExxonMobil and Jones Walker.

Among the many data points Lingenfelter discussed was that, with help from NMSI’s College Readiness Program, Alabama’s high schools have improved their percentage of passing Advanced Placement exam scores by 136 percent since 2008.

His reason for the extreme success? Alabama, as he put it, is “hungry.”

During his hourlong talk on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and the economy, Lingenfelter noted that Louisiana ranks third in the country for improvement in passing AP scores. But his good news was quickly tempered with a reality check: Despite our improvement, Louisiana still falls to second from the bottom for overall passing AP scores.

So we have a long way to go and a good reason to get hungry. Lingenfelter stressed that Louisiana leads the nation in share of STEM jobs for high-school-educated workers. This echoed data in BRAC’s recent report on STEM education, showing that the Baton Rouge metro area is first in the country for total share of STEM jobs requiring more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.

Giving examples of promising initiatives aimed at addressing these issues, Lingenfelter commended both the district and the Foundation for East Baton Rouge Parish Schools, which, with a grant from ExxonMobil, have started implementing NMSI’s professional development strategies.

Districts across the capital region are undertaking key initiatives to improve STEM achievement, such as implementing nationally recognized models for STEM education, partnering with LSU to implement Geaux Teach (an NMSI program), pursuing STEM academies, advancing more robust career and technical education in STEM fields, and enhancing STEM education through partnerships with business and industry.

We’re pleased to have heard Lingenfelter speak on this crucial education and workforce development topic. BRAC is certainly aware that there is much more work to be done to ensure capital-area students are ready to seize economic opportunities existing in STEM fields, and we’re glad to see school districts, universities and business leaders are taking notice and getting hungry.

Liz Smith

policy and research director, Baton Rouge Area Chamber

Baton Rouge