JerseyCAN was created in 2013 to address two big issues and opportunities: excellence and equity in New Jersey’s K–12 education system. For the last four years we have been advocating for policies that we believe will advance excellence and equity, such as enhancing quality school options, expanding pre-K access and setting high academic standards paired with accountability. While we’ve seen important successes, the nature of this work, and the challenges of driving change, have caused us to think about finding new ways to discuss excellence and equity—and to question if we are thinking big enough. To do this, we went back to our roots.

New Jersey was the original center for innovation and scientific progress before Silicon Valley. We have a rich history in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) leadership—home to Thomas Edison who invented the light bulb and Bell Labs that invented the transistor—and yet, today, we see a growing skills gap between students interested and prepared for the growing STEM job sector.

When you look at how our students are performing academically, it is clear we are not adequately preparing them for STEM fields. And the data also shows that many children are left behind. Let’s keep this simple by just looking at 2015 NAEP science exams for 8th grade children in New Jersey, where we rank 24th in the nation.

With New Jersey’s rich STEM history, and our very diverse state, we decided to explore the conversation around excellence and equity using STEM education as our framework. We are very encouraged by the many pockets of innovation and the pioneer leaders who are working to improve excellence and equity in New Jersey STEM education. However, the complexity of driving change and the need to scale this work is evident.