Have U.S. twelfth graders made any progress in math since the 1970s? The answer is no, if we’re to believe news stories about the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which released the results of its long-term math and science tests yesterday. Yet those news stories don’t have it quite right.
It is true that, overall, 17 year olds’ scores barely budged from 1973 to 2012. They rose a scant two points. But things look a bit different when you break down the data by racial and ethnic group. Every group made gains: black students gained 18 points, Hispanic students gained 17 points, Asian students gained six points, and white students gained four points.
The reason for this apparent impossibility? Black and Hispanic students, who unfortunately lag behind their white peers, make up a much bigger share of the population now than they did in 1973. That brings down the total score. (Jack Jennings noted this dynamic several years ago.) Yet those who imply that our students are no better served by the K-12 system than they were 40 years ago are ignoring the evidence.
So should we be popping the champagne corks? Hardly. Progress in high school has been much slower than in elementary and middle schools, where student gains have amounted to several grade levels worth of learning. In fact, high schools seem to be undoing some of the gains made by elementary and middle schools.
But gloomy fatalism and blanket indictments of K-12 won’t do us much good. One lesson NAEP teaches us is that change is possible—we can move the needle when we set our minds to it. We’ve also got to step up our game. Students of color make up a growing share of our school enrollments. If we don’t accelerate the progress we have already made with them, we will pay a very high moral and economic price.
It's Tuesday, so we've got the STEM news you can use.
Computer Coding Lessons Expanding for K-12 Students, EdWeek, June 12
Coding is one of the most critical 21st-century skills students need to acquire, but most schools don't offer computer science courses. To fill the gaps, several groups are trying new and indirect routes of introducing kids to coding, such as through game design. This piece has a strong round up of new ideas teachers, programs, and administrators are using as jumping-off points for kids.
Data Security is a Classroom Worry, Too, New York Times, June 22
Technology has incredible transformative power in the classroom, but particularly given how much data usage is in the news, it's important to think about how much of their lives students are putitng online. Take a deep look into the security of online learning tools here.
Companies back STEM efforts as Maryland seeks to revamp science education, Baltimore Sun, June 23
As Maryland prepare to debate adoption of the Next Gen Science Standards, several businesses -- including CTEq member companies Northrup Grumman and Batelle -- are joining the effort to pass the standards. Maryland has been at the forefront of transforming instruction, and we're happy to see the Next Gen Science Standards being addressed in the state.
U.S. News Release 2013 Best High Schools for STEM Rankings, U.S. News, June 18
We know that strong STEM starts young, and that dozens of schools around the country are doing amazing work to stimulate growth in STEM. Check out this list of 250 schools that are doing an especially great job, as judged by AP scores. These schools are supporting their scores with strong curriculum and deep practical experiences for students.
When you pick up your phone today, send an email, or even drum your fingers on your desk in a dot-dash-dot rhythm, pause for a moment and reflect on the humble beginnings of telecommunications. First, on this day in 1840, Samuel Morse (he of the Morse code) received his patent for the telegraph, setting the course for trans-Atlantic communications (which, incidentally, didn't happen until 1866). A series of dots and dashes were transmitted as all uppercase letters, with no question mark or lowercase. (The first Morse code telegram, sent by Morse himself in May 1844, read "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT".)
Then in 1877, Alexander Graham Bell installed the world's first telephone in Canada (kind of makes you wonder who he was calling, no?). And by 1886, more than 150,000 people in the U.S. owned a telephone (that's a landline for you kiddies). From these humble beginnings, though, the world would never be the same. According to Wikipedia, "By the end of 2009, there were a total of nearly 6 billion mobile and fixed-line telephone subscribers worldwide. This included 1.26 billion fixed-line subscribers and 4.6 billion mobile subscribers."
Can you hear me now?
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Questions Arise About the Need for Algebra 2 for all, EdWeek, June 12
Algebra 2, often considered the gateway to higher-level math, is coming under a great deal of scrutiny, despite the increasing rigor of adopted standards. EdWeek takes a look at why states such as Florida and Texas, which have recently struck it from high-school graduation requirements, are backing away from the rigorous course. We recently took a look at states' graduation requirements, noting tha many are too weak to align to Common Core. And given the opportunities that Algebra 2 provides for both careers and college, we're disappointed in the steps certain states are taking.
The Faulty Logic of the 'Math Wars', New York Times, June 16
In the last 10 years or so, math pedagogy has shifted it focused from computation to deep numerical understanding, particularly in the younger grades. This editorial hits back at this transition, arguing that the purpose of math instruction should be rigor and discipline so students can confidently and competently execute the most efficient algorithm. For instance, in addition, that would be stacking the numbers and producing a sum. Today, students may get two quantities and be asked to translate them into base-10 before adding, or be asked to use a grouping strategy instead. Proponents of the new pedagogy argue that newer methods allow students to better understand the why along with the how. While the authors argue persuasively how this is not necessarily just the domain of newer teaching methods, one must wonder whether, in today's highly pressurized testing environment, a focus solely on the algorithms might devolve into rote memorization, leaving students ill-equipped to handle higher-level math.
Remembering Astronaut Sally Ride's Historic Journey, NPR, June 18
Today is the anniversary of Sally Ride's historic space flight. The first woman in space, Sally later became a high-profile advocate for women in STEM and a founding board member of Change the Equation before her death last year.
Firebrand for Science, and Big Man on Campus, New York Times, June 17
Bill Nye introduced a generation of kids to the wonders of science, and now he's setting out to defend science to that very same generation. Worried about what he considers the politicalization of issues like climate change and the age of the earth, he's going directly to college students to make his case.
The forty plus states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have committed to an agenda to prepare all students for success after graduation whether in college or careers. For most of them, the CCSS represent a significant boost from their previous standards. Consequently, school districts in these states are busy re-examining curriculum, designing lesson plans, field-testing new assessments, adjusting school schedules and providing professional development to educators to help them make the shift to deeper learning experiences for their students aligned to the new, higher standards.
I should add that this is happening on an incredibly tight deadline: most states are on schedule to begin testing students on the CCSS in 2014-15. So state and local school leaders have a very full plate right now. But there is one critical step that should not get lost in the hustle. Common Core states need graduation requirements that reflect the new college and career-ready demands. If there’s a mismatch, students cannot be assured their diploma will carry them into postsecondary education or good jobs.
My colleagues and I at NSBA’s Center for Public Education and Change the Equation recently looked at current state high school graduation requirements in math in Common Core states to see how well they measure up to the math CCSS. As recommended by the CCSS authors, this would mean math in each year of high school and include Algebra II or courses with similar content. We found 11 states where graduation aligns with the new demands, and 13 states that are partially aligned. This leaves 22 states that have adopted the college-career ready standards but have not yet defined a standard diploma that will meet them.
Clearly, there is a lot states need to consider before changing graduation requirements, especially for students who are in middle and high school now and may lack the math foundation for success in higher level courses they were not necessarily expected to take. At the same time, schools still have a responsibility to prepare their current graduates for life after high school. Fortunately, school districts don’t need to wait for the state. Nothing precludes them from defining graduation requirements beyond those the state has set.
Indeed, launching a community conversation about the diploma they award could present a good opportunity for engaging parents, students, local businesses and civic leaders in Common Core implementation. While non-educators may not feel they have much to contribute to curriculum design and professional development plans, the entire community is nonetheless invested in preparing young people for adult life and thus will have a lot to say about what that should mean.
Business leaders can play a particularly important role by making the case to the public why they need better prepared graduates to fill their jobs and contribute to a vibrant local economy. They can also assist through meaningful partnerships with public schools by sharing resources, serving as mentors to teachers and students, and even running for school board.
To be sure, this is a heavy lift. Courses will need to be both higher level and look different from traditional math through the emphasis on application alongside key math concepts. Many students will need extra help to earn a Common Core aligned diploma. The support of the community and businesses will provide the best assurance this critical next step will land on solid ground.
Patte Barth is Director of the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association.
Check out our guest post by Claus von Zastrow over at the Center for Public Education's blog, The Edifier.