STEM Beats - October 2013

TIMMS: You Take the Good, You Take the Bad

October 24, 2013

Results from a study linking performance of eighth graders, state-by-state, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress with the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) are out today noting, again, that there remains disparity among the states in science and math learning.  There is certainly something to celebrate – such as the fact that eighth graders in most states are above the international average in math and science. But before we get out our celebratory party hats and drums, we need to step back and take a harder look at what the results are telling us. 

The good news is that some states are figuring out how to improve their  global competitiveness in math and science.  Hooray! Other states, however, continue to lag behind. Boo! According to Education Week:

The federal report, released today, showcases the academic prowess of high-achieving states, such as Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Vermont, which outperformed all but five of 47 countries, provinces, and jurisdictions abroad in mathematics. The top performers in that subject were South Korea, Singapore, and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). 

At the same time, the study also highlights some states' scholastic weaknesses. Alabama, Mississippi, and the District of Columbia, for instance, were the lowest-performing domestically in math. Countries such as Italy, Lithuania, and Hungary outperformed those U.S. systems in the subject.

Good news is also tinged with bad: despite Massachusetts’ high standing, for example, only about 1 in 5 students in the state rank among those most advanced worldwide.

So, now what?  It’s time to shine a light on what’s being done right now to help elevate states that are struggling and keep those that are above average on the path to even greater success. High expectations and the means for all students to reach those expectations are key.  Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards set a high bar for students and provide the opportunity for states to walk the talk on rigor. CTEq will continue to trumpet its support for this state-led effort of broad, clear internationally-benchmarked statements of the knowledge and skills that students should master at every grade level.

If the U.S. is going to continue to be an economic and innovation leader, we’ve got to address shortfalls across the states and push beyond “business as usual” to get all our students achieving at their greatest potential – and meeting both national and international benchmarks.  A measure of restrained celebration is good, but we’ve got far to go before we can schedule the parade.

Tags: science, math, standards, Common Core, Next Generation Science

The STEM Shortage: Myth or Reality? Talent Recruiters Weigh In

October 23, 2013

Is the shortage of workers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) a myth or a reality? There has been much sound and fury recently from people who say it’s a myth. We’ve long said that it’s a reality.  Now, a new and very credible voice has weighed in: talent recruiters at Fortune 1000 companies. Verdict? It’s all too real.

Yesterday, Bayer Material Science and Change the Equation released findings from a survey of 150 Fortune 1000 talent recruiters at a STEM Salon in Washington, DC. The findings leave little doubt about the challenges companies are facing. Here’s just a sample:

  • About two thirds (67 percent) of talent recruiters said there are more STEM than non-STEM jobs being created at their companies today. More than half—53 percent—of talent recruiters at non-STEM companies held that view.
  • A full three fourths (75 percent) of talent recruiters—including 68 percent at non-STEM companies—said that STEM job creation would outpace non-STEM job creation ten years from now.
  • An overwhelming majority (89 percent) reported that competition is “fierce” for people with four-year degrees in STEM. Forty-three percent report fierce competition for people with two-year degrees in STEM.
  • Only about half say they can find enough qualified job candidates with two or four year degrees. Of those who say they cannot, more than nine in ten attribute their challenges to a shortage of qualified STEM candidates.
  • Less than 20 percent said they were seeing enough African American, Hispanic or American Indian candidates.
  • More than half (56 percent) said these shortages had lowered their companies productivity.

None of the distinguished speakers at our event was surprised by these results. Dr. Mae Jemison, a lifelong STEM advocate and the first African American woman astronaut, presented the findings to a full house. Afterwards, a panel of distinguished experts in business and higher education discussed their implications. As their remarks made clear, everyone has a stake—and a role—in reversing the STEM shortage:

  • Colleges and universities should stop taking pride in the selectivity of their STEM programs—which often amounts to how many STEM students they fail. Rather, they should help more students succeed in STEM fields.
  • Businesses should do a better job of recognizing the STEM talent in unexpected places. While we need to expand the numbers of people graduating with STEM degrees, people without such credentials might possess critical STEM skills gained through certification, military careers, experience and many other ways.
  • The K-12 community should do more to explore career and technical pathways that may not lead to a 4-year degree but that can lead to very rewarding STEM work.
  • Parents and opinion leaders should stop denigrating vocational pathways. College readiness is a critical goal, but more students need hands-on experience with the kinds of exciting jobs that might not require a bachelor’s degree.

Stay tuned for video from the event.

Tags: jobs & workforce

Do You Have Low Skills?

October 9, 2013

American adults have generally come to believe that children in their country are bringing up the rear in international tests of student skills. Now it seems they should take a close look at themselves as well.

A new test from the OECD finds that American adults aged 16 to 65 are merely average in reading and well below average in math when compared with adults in 21 other developed countries. On some level, this finding shouldn’t surprise us. It stands to reason that children with low skills often grow up to be adults with low skills, but that doesn’t rob this study of its sting. It removes the refuge many American adults find in common language about the decline of U.S. schools: namely, the implication that, back when they were in school, education wasn’t as bad.

Yet if the OECD test is any indication, the education most adults received was in fact worse. Young Americans performed 9 percentage points higher than older Americans, which suggests that schools are getting better—albeit far too slowly. (In higher performing countries like Korea, young people outshine their elders by a much larger margin, a sign of much faster improvement in their school systems.)

The OECD test reveals a fundamental challenge for school reformers: When we try to convince the American public that their children are not performing well enough to succeed in a competitive world economy, we’re implicitly asking adults to own up to their own skill deficiencies as well. This problem is all the more acute for employers who say they can’t find the skilled people they need right now.

Of course there are still ways to evade the implications of all the tests that reveal our nation’s skills deficit. According to polls, parents commonly assume that the problem applies to other people’s children. Individual workers can point fingers at the rest of the workforce. Still, deep down many of us may sense that these tests are telling us about our own individual shortcomings. That is a powerful incentive to look away from them.

Yet as the demand for skills rises and youth in other countries pull ahead, we can't afford to look away. Our children are entering a much less forgiving world.

Tags: jobs & workforce

Common Core Critics Suddenly Discover a Passion for High Standards

October 4, 2013

For many who want to defeat Common Core State Standards, high academic expectations are apparently the new black.

The Pioneer Institute just released yet another paper claiming that Common Core sets a low bar in math. The paper’s authors, Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram, passionately believe that every American student should have to pass pre-calculus at least to graduate from high school and be ready for admission to a “selective” 4-year college. Legions of Common Core critics whose grasp on mathematics is, shall we say, looser than Migram's or Stotsky's are using their arguments to claim that Common Core is dumbing down math in this country.

So let’s get this straight: Common Core is lowering standards, because it won’t prepare every U.S. student to succeed at Harvard?

Apparently, the fact that the Common Core is much more rigorous than most states' previous standards does little to impress folks at the Pioneer Institute. Common Core assumes that every student will take four years of math, including at least algebra 2. Meanwhile, current graduation requirements in all but 11 states are much lower than that. In fact, some states have been going backwards despite Common Core. Texas recently dropped algebra 2 from its requirements, and Florida quickly followed suit.

So here are some questions for all those Common Core critics who have suddenly conceived a passion for high standards—calculus, even! Where were you during all those years when so many states embraced vague or squishy standards? Where were you when most states declared students “proficient” for getting low scores on state tests? Where were you when Texas—which the critics have praised for rejecting Common Core—dramatically rolled back its graduation requirements in math? And where will you be if states abandon Common Core and slide back into mediocrity?  Will you all rally around the goal of algebra 2 for all students, much less pre-calculus or calculus?

Fat chance.

Tags: Common Core, math, standards

Change the Equation Recognizes Four Exemplary STEM Learning Programs

October 3, 2013

Today, Change the Equation announced four excellent STEM learning programs that are ready to be taken to scale nationwide. The programs we identified--Girlstart Summer Camp, Project Lead the Way, ST Math, and Ten80 Student Racing Challenge--are already in CTEq’s rigorous STEMworks database of STEM programs that consistently yield positive outcomes.

CTEq invited all programs in its existing STEMworks database to submit additional evidence of their ability to promptly scale nationally. Nineteen applied. Every STEMworks program has already measured up to CTEq's rigorous Design Principles for Effective STEM Philanthrolpy. To be identified as ready to scale, STEMworks programs had to an additional set of demanding criteria adapted from the Social Impact Exchange. The nonprofit education research and evaluation firm WestEd performed all of the reviews.

Our effort is similar to a scaling initiative underway at the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of leading U.S. companies. Both endeavors are working to have an impact on scaling up proven programs. ST Math was recognized as a leader in both CTEq’s and Business Roundtable’s initiatives.

CTEq undertook this scaling initiative to help companies that want to devote a portion of their resources to scale-ready programs identify strong targets for their resources. At the same time, companies can continue to invest in STEMworks programs that might not be as ready to go to broad scale but that can meet companies' more specific priorities.

Learn more about the scalable programs:

  • Girlstart Summer Camp, a week-long STEM experience for girls in the 3rd through 10th grades that increases girls' mastery in STEM subjects by introducing them to fun, real-world STEM activities. Girls who participate become much more interested in STEM and confident in their own ability to pursue STEM.
  • Project Lead The Way, which offers hands-on, project-based STEM programs for elementary, middle, and high schools. PLTW has been proven to boost student academic growth in the STEM disciplines as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • ST Math, a program that uses instructional software to teach math concepts visually through computer games, while developing critical problem-solving and reasoning skills essential for tomorrow’s workforce. Developed by university neuroscientists, ST Math has been shown to double students’ growth rate in math scores.
  • Ten80 Student Racing Challenge, a project-based learning program that challenges middle and high school students in and out of schools to optimize the performance of 1:10 scale radio-controlled cars. Students mirror professional motorsports teams, specializing in projects from creative engineering and green transportation to business and graphic design. Ten80 has been shown to boost student test scores and spark their interest in math and science.
Tags: STEMworks