STEM Beats - August 2016

New Data: High Schoolers Lack Access to Statistics Courses

August 31, 2016

As recently as 2011, “big data” was not very big news. Fast forward five years, and it consistently ranks among business leaders’ top priorities. Depending on whom you ask, the amount of data on everything from consumer behavior to corporate performance is doubling every one or two years, and analysts predict that shortages of people with the skills to analyze such data may cause high-paying jobs to go begging and companies to lose revenue.

One solution to this challenge? Better access to statistics education in high school.

CTEq’s new analysis of recent federal data on high school statistics courses is hardly reassuring. Most high schoolers attend schools that offer at least some kind of probability and statistics course, but access to gold-standard AP statistics courses is spotty—and it is anything but equitable.  


Few 12th-graders have ever taken a stand-alone statistics course

Unfortunately, the picture looks worse for lower-income students:

Low-income students have less access to statistics courses

Not surprisingly, low-income students are less likely take statistics courses:

Low-income students are less likely to take statistics courses

Geography also plays a big role in who has access to statistics courses, especially AP courses. The AP gap separating town and rural students from suburban students is simply breathtaking:

Statistics courses are less common in rural and small-town schools

This gap in access to AP courses has predictable results:

Rural and small-town students are less likely to take AP statistics

The stakes for improving access to statistics are higher than you might think. Big data can yield big benefits in fields as diverse as public health and weather forecasting, but it can also lead us astray when it loses its moorings in statistical principles.

Take, for example, the case of Google’s Flu Trends, the once-heralded big data initiative that used Google search data to estimate influenza activity in 20 countries. For all its sophisticated algorithms and mountains of data, the enterprise dramatically over-estimated the number of flu cases in the United States, because it rested on a wobbly statistical foundation.  We cannot reap the rewards of big data without a healthy supply of statisticians.

So what is to be done? It may be an overreach to require every high school student to take a statistics course, given the many claims on high-schoolers' schedules. That said, expanding access to AP courses in statistics is one feasible strategy for tackling the problem. The National Math + Science Initiative's College Readiness Program has already expanded access to AP courses, including AP statistics, in states around the country.  

Another solution may already be afoot. States across the country have recently adopted academic standards that include a dose of probability and statistics in middle and high school. The challenge, of course, is to prepare teachers to teach that new content at a time when many lack a strong foundation in the subject

Despite some encouraging signs, the fate of statistics in K-12 remains an open question. The answer lies in broader access to courses and better teacher training.

Tags: math, jobs & workforce

Maryland, My Maryland

August 26, 2016

Katie Ledecky & Michael PhelpsMany of us were captivated by the athleticism and accomplishments on display in Rio as competitors appeared to defy gravity and human limits. We sat in awe as record after record was broken and, with no small amount of pride, cheered as the medal counts appeared on the screen.  Those of us from Maryland felt special glee about the medal totals: had Maryland participated as a country, it would have earned more gold than all but five nations.

Maryland’s thanks are due to athletes like Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, Matthew Centrowitz, and Kevin Durant, among others. Interestingly, those ‘pesky’ profiles of these and other athletes, when viewers often took a break from the TV, probably offered the most important lessons for future generations of Olympians—more important than, say, proper podium behavior.  While the medal race may momentarily grab our attention, our sustained focus actually should be on how such talent gets made. Behind every Maryland gold medal is a story of state-of-the-art training facilities, highly skilled coaches, incredible determination and a work ethic seasoned with ruthless concentration on performance data that propels high-achieving talent to greater heights.

With results from Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) due later this year, we will soon know how the U.S. stands in the closest thing we have to an ‘intellectual’ Olympics for 4th and 8th grade and 15-year old students. Perhaps we can learn something from watching those Maryland athletes. As a nation, we might not end up on the metaphorical medal stand, but let’s get past the likely media focus on the ‘race’—how many countries scored significantly better or worse than the U.S. Instead, let’s focus on the learning environment and educational leverage points of the high performing countries, using that context to analyze our own data.

Maryland doesn’t currently shine on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, nor did it participate as a benchmarking state in TIMSS 2015 or PISA 2015. But there will be lessons to learn from analyses of these international assessments, lessons that we should take to heart so that our academic prowess matches our athletic prowess.

Photo courtesy of

Idaho Uses STEMworks to Fund STEM Professional Development

August 23, 2016

Does your program offer professional development for STEM teachers? Are you ready to help teachers in Idaho? If so, the Idaho STEM Action Center might have a grant for you.

The Idaho STEM Action Center is the latest partner in our efforts to help states identify and expand the nation's best STEM education programs. It will join leading STEM organizations in states like Colorado, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan in using CTEq's rigorous STEMworks review process to find programs that are most likely to make a difference for America's youth.

As states gain more control over their education policies and purse strings, STEMworks helps them make the best decisions for their young people.

Here is the text of the Idaho announcement:

Idaho STEM Action Center announces grants for professional development programs

Change the Equation (CTEq) and the Idaho STEM Action Center are collaborating on an initiative to identify excellent teacher professional development programs in STEM. The STEM Action Center will recommend programs identified through this process for state professional development funds. Programs may apply for up to two years of funding: $75,000 in the first year and $50,000 in the second.

Apply before 3pm Mountain Time on October 4, 2016.

Programs must apply through CTEq’s STEMworks application portal. Reviewers will judge applications against Change the Equation’s rigorous Design Principles for effectiveness as well as additional state-specific criteria to assess programs’ readiness to address needs specific to Idaho.

Programs that meet the Design Principles will appear in CTEq’s nationally-recognized STEMworks honor roll of effective STEM education programs. Businesses leaders, funders, and STEM advocates regularly tap the STEMworks database for high-quality STEM programs most likely to help maximize their impact on STEM education.

Programs that meet both the STEMworks threshold and Idaho’s state-specific requirements will be considered for state funding

Register for an Informational Webinar [link pending] on STEMworks and the Application Process

On September 2 at 2:00 Mountain Time, CTEq and the Idaho STEM Action Center will host a free one-hour webinar to introduce prospective applicants to the application process.

Visit the STEMworks website to read about the individual STEMworks programs included and more about the database itself.

Tags: STEMworks, teachers

The Hidden Gold in the Olympics? Big Data

August 19, 2016

Helen Maroulis gets emotional over gold medalThere’s nothing like a two-week binge on the Rio Olympics to experience, vicariously, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” in the words of the late sportscaster Jim McKay.

In sports, the sting of defeat can be a powerful motivator to shake up the status quo. Remember Moneyball, the book and movie about the Oakland A’s baseball franchise? After a crushing loss to the New York Yankees in 2001 post-season play, general manager Billy Beane used computer-generated statistical analysis to scout and acquire undervalued players and put together a winning team in 2002—on a limited budget.

Fast forward to today. The talent identification, selection and development squads for Olympic athletes are playing Moneyball on steroids. Big data—and the STEM brainpower behind it—is “changing the game” of Olympic sports, according to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference:  

“Within recent years, countries participating in the Olympics have accelerated their use of data and advanced analysis to inform decisions on the sports and athletes to ‘double down’ on and put onto the world’s stage. With a deep trove of historic sports performance data and advanced analytics tools available today, NOCs [National Olympic Committees] are better equipped than ever to make informed decisions on resource allocation designed to result in top medal placements.”

Kerron Clement carries the United States flagThat trove of data includes competition results and rankings going back to the first modern Olympic games in 1896, as well as data on up-and-coming athletes from feeder competitions. Olympic teams can compare athletes to their competitors, monitor their progress over time to see if they are on track for Olympic-level feats and predict their chances of making it to a medal ceremony.

Big data is also helping countries make return-on-investment decisions. The United States and other countries with big pockets can train athletes to compete in events across the board. Countries with limited resources can use data to be more strategic and specialized—and target events that might be more favorable to their strengths and medaling opportunities.

Big data is on the rise as well in the everyday grind of Olympic training. Anything that can be measured is on the radar screen of coaches and athletes. “The idea is that by collecting every bit of data about every athlete who enters the training program, new entrants can be matched against profiles of former entrants, to identify the approach most likely to turn each individual into a champion,” according to Forbes.

It’s astonishing to imagine tracking performance indicators, biomechanics and exercise physiology longitudinally and then projecting them into the future to predict tomorrow’s superstars, but that’s exactly where big data is headed. Alas, Forbes notes, “The technical skills to build a Big Data-driven analytics system are not native to the world of elite sports scientists and physiologists.”

Bring it on, say STEM companies like IBM, a Change the Equation member. IBM built an app for the U.S. women’s cycling team that collects, aggregates and displays riders’ performance data in real time, which helped them train smarter and more efficiently.

In case you missed it, American women won silver in the team pursuit, Kristin Armstrong won her third straight gold in the time trial and Sarah Hammer won silver in the Omnium—a two-day, six-discipline event. The mashup of sports and big data seems to be paying off.

The photos of Team USA gold medalists Helen Maroulis and Kerron Clement courtesy of


Guest Blog: Celebrating 16 Years of Partnership with the National Math and Science Initiative

August 11, 2016

Texas Instruments’ dedication to supporting and improving education dates back to the company’s founding and remains one of our highest philanthropic priorities. TI recently announced new and continuing partnerships  with organizations through our corporate and foundation grants that support K-12 STEM education, and we’re excited about the positive impact this will have.

Dallas-based National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) was awarded $1.1 million from the TI Foundation. The grants will expand the NMSI’s College Readiness Program (CRP) into all six Garland ISD high schools and launch CRP in two Uplift Education high schools.

Why is this important? NMSI’s CRP is a comprehensive program that is dramatically increasing the number of students succeeding in rigorous coursework in math, science and English and opening doors to rigorous coursework for traditionally underrepresented students in STEM – two ideals that fit squarely in TI’s efforts to support and improve STEM education.

Since forging the partnership in the 2000-01 school year, roughly 400 teachers and over 80,000 students in the Dallas area have been positively impacted through NMSI’s work. Through this joint effort to boost STEM education in local schools, the TI Foundation grants have helped improve STEM teacher effectiveness and thus impact student success.

Teachers receiving training and support to increase rigor in the classroom, and students benefit from study sessions. After just one year in the program, schools see, on average, a 68% increase in the number of qualifying scores earned by students on math, science and English Advanced Placement® exams – more than 10 times the national average. The result: students participating in the program are better prepared for college and STEM careers.

NMSI, a STEMworks program is just one of several that TI is partnering with to enhance education in the communities where we operate.  TI also announced its 2nd year funding award to RAFT, and its new funding award to NAPE, both are part of Change the Equation’s STEMworks database. To learn more about the other programs that received funding from TI and the TI Foundation, please read our announcement here

Andy Smith is the Executive Director at Texas Instruments Foundation.

Tags: guest blog