STEM Beats - September 2016

New hope for School and District Leaders in Search of Truly Effective Programs

September 27, 2016

School superintendents and principals get swamped by pitches from people selling curriculum, technology, professional development programs, and any number of other solutions to their schools’ challenges. Many don’t have the background to separate the wheat from the chaff. After all, they’re not education researchers. Often, educators have to go for the best-looking brochure, and so their students don’t really benefit from the growing body of research about what is mostly likely to work in schools.

Fortunately, there is some work afoot to help superintendents and principals select the best options for their students. The U.S. Education Department recently released guidance on what evidence educators should look for as they look for programs and strategies to improve students’ performance. The Department is also revamping its What Works Clearinghouse of school research to help district and school leaders find vetted programs that might address their specific priorities.

At least one school district is taking it up a notch. At Education Week, blogger Sarah Sparks takes a look at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s plans to (among other things) “build a dashboard to allow principals to easily monitor how well initiatives or programs are working in their schools.” “In the process,” Sparks reports:

the dashboard will help schools easily collect and report data to understand how various factors—changes to the school calendar, differences in grade-spans at different schools, and the percentage of students with an individualized education plan, among others—affect student achievement.

If this strategy works, Cleveland could create a rich store of evidence for what works in Cleveland while helping school principals make much better informed choices.

Of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t point to our own STEMworks honor roll of effective programs. Third-party reviewers have carefully vetted each STEMworks program for effectiveness and readiness to scale to other places, among other factors. States like Iowa and Michigan are currently turning to STEMworks for this very reason as they consider how to allocate some of their state education funding. 

It's one thing to go through a stack of glossy program brochures. It's another thing entirely to seek actual evidence of what works.

Tags: STEMworks

The Moment We've All Been Waiting For

September 21, 2016

Four years of anticipation swept the nation’s capital and culminates this weekend at the unveiling of the National Mall’s newest addition. The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) opens to the public officially this Saturday September 24, 2016 at 1:00 pm.  And if you’re looking for something to do this weekend, Grand Opening activities begin on Friday with the Freedom Sounds festival and continue through Sunday. The festival will incorporate musical and dance performances; spoken word, oral history, and storytelling; and of course there will be plenty of food!

The Grand Opening of a museum honoring the contributions of African Americans throughout American history marks the perfect occasion to reflect on African Americans’ influence in STEM fields. Change the Equation is particularly excited to look for features of African American heavy hitters in STEM throughout the museum. Don’t forget to check out exhibits featuring Charles F. Bolden, Jr., the first permanent African American Administrator of NASA, and inventor extraordinaire George Washington Carver.

To see the museum in its humble beginnings to now, view The Washington Post’s amazing construction time lapse!


Can virtual reality transform US high schools?

September 15, 2016

Ten high schools have just received $10 million each in an ambitious project to reinvent high school. One of those schools, a public charter school in Washington, DC, aims to create technologies that transform how students experience science. If this approach works, it will address a glaring need in US schools.

According to The 74’s Richard Whitmire, DC’s Washington Leadership Academy will use the gift to create “the nation’s first-ever virtual chemistry lab”:

Imagine this: Students enter the lab, strap on a virtual reality headset…, and instead of playing video games, students will enter a fully immersive and scientifically accurate virtual reality chemistry lab.

In this virtual world, students could carry out complex experiments that would normally require pricey equipment, safely manipulate hazardous chemicals, or even “see” chemical reactions at the molecular level play out in real time. If all goes well, these students could enjoy “access to a chemistry lab superior to anything offered in the swankiest private or wealthy suburban schools – or even some elite college campuses.”

Needless to say, that would be a vast improvement over the status quo. According to recent data from the feds, fully 31 percent of 12th-graders attended schools that reported lacking ample supplies for science labs. Among lower-income students, that share rises to 36 percent.*

The aim of this initiative is to benefit students far beyond the Washington Leadership Academy. The charter school hopes to create an open source Chemistry Lab that schools around the country could adopt. More important, its leaders are betting that they can help promote virtual reality as a game-changer for high schools across the country

Of course, bringing virtual reality to all or even most US high schools won’t be easy. Federal data suggest that a whopping 78 percent of all students currently lack ample access to computerized science labs, for example.

Still, the payoff could be substantial. Ten million dollars might seem like an extravagant gift for just one high school. If the Leadership Academy realizes its vision to transform schools across the country, however, $10 million would be the bargain of the century.

* CTEq analysis of contextual survey data from the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress Mathematics Assessment, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. The full question regarding supplies for science labs reads, “To what extent are any of the following available to twelfth-grade teachers who teach science? Supplies or equipment for science labs (school–reported)” The possible responses are, “Not at all, Small extent, Moderate extent, Large extent.” We included only schools that replied “large extent” as chools with “ample supplies.” The full question regarding computerized science labs reads: “To what extent are any of the following available to twelfth-grade teachers who teach science? Computerized science labs for classroom use (school-reported).” Again, possible replies were “Not at all, Small extent, Moderate extent, Large extent,” and we included only schools that replied “Large extent"  as schools that offer "ample access."

Tags: science, technology

Dinner with a Side of Data

September 13, 2016

Even in the earliest days of communication people saw pictorials as a useful means of telling stories and relaying important information at a glance.  Here at Change the Equation we’re no different. There’s nothing like a well-planned chart, graph, or infographic to make you hungry and help you plan ahead!

Did you have any idea that 214 days of the year count as some kind of national food or drink day? That means you have an excuse to indulge just about 60 percent of the year! But where do these days come from? Our very own presidents have issued most proclamations for national food day observances since 1995. You have President Reagan to thank for National Catfish Day (June 25th). So next time you’re getting reprimanded by your doctor, nutritionist, or trainer, remember that the data and the Chef in Chief are on your side.

July leads the year as the most edible month with every single day dedicated to at least one food—including two days you don’t have to feel guilty about, National Caesar Salad Day and Fresh Spinach Day.  And in a tie for last (but certainly not least palatable) place are January, February, and May. Our biggest upset though, may be that National Pie Day (January 23rd) doesn’t fall on Pi Day (March 14th). But we suppose, on the bright side, that’s two reasons to eat pie!

Click the picture below to interact with Nathan Yau's "All the National Food Days" data visualization.

Photo courtesy of

Tags: math

Supporting STEM Education Will Help Bring More Diversity to Financial Services

September 9, 2016

MIchael Bodson, President & CEO at DTCCSummer is unofficially over and kids are back in school. This time of year always gets me thinking about the past and my own children preparing to start the new semester.

Back then, we talked a lot about the three Rs – reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic. Of course, a lot has changed over time. Most kids today probably know the three R's as "Reduce, Recycle and Reuse." Maybe the world used to be a simpler place, but to succeed in today's technology-based economy, young people need to do more than master the basics. They need to focus on a new acronym – STEM.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) have always been important, but as they become increasingly crucial to a growing variety of activities, schools are finding it more difficult to meet these educational needs alone. This is where business is stepping in to help fill the gap.

As we all work to become better corporate citizens, and as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) becomes embedded in companies around the globe, there is no better way to channel this effort than toward improving STEM education.

For many businesses, and particularly for those of us in financial services, this is not simply an altruistic venture; we are investing in our future. The financial system today relies on highly sophisticated information technology to accomplish a spectrum of tasks from routine to major. For example, high frequency traders can execute orders in a millionth of a second – faster than a blink of the eye – while mathematicians and physicists are applying quantitative analysis to develop trading and risk management programs.

This evolution will continue as newer and faster technologies come to market in the years ahead. In fact, industry research says that jobs in banking and finance requiring STEM skills will increase by 21 percent in the next 10 years while all other jobs will increase only 18 percent. In other words, strong competencies in STEM will be essential for a career in banking and finance.

Change the Equation (CTEq), a coalition of corporate members leading a movement to ensure that every young person is STEM literate, points to the opportunity of expanding the STEM talent pool in the U.S. with promising programs and strategies that are successfully drawing girls and young people from diverse populations to the fields. Business will play a key role in ensuring such programs attain the necessary scale. For financial services, the focus on STEM education also creates opportunities for the industry to address the historic under-representation of women, Blacks and Hispanics.

According to data from CTEq, three occupations account for almost half of the industry's total projected job growth over the next decade, all of which will require substantial math or technology skills:

  • Personal financial advisors will grow by 45,000, while today's representation is 28 percent female and 11.5 percent Black/Hispanic.
  • Securities, commodities, and financial service agents will grow by 21,000, while today's representation is 30 percent female and 14.3 percent Black/Hispanic.
  • Financial analysts positions will grow by 20,000, while today's representation is 35 percent female and 14.4 percent Black/Hispanic.

Clearly, STEM will be among the most in-demand skills that employers will be seeking. At my own company, recruiting and retaining candidates with strong STEM competencies will be essential for us to continue to grow and expand our role supporting the industry. In addition, attracting diverse candidates will enable us to better understand the needs of our global client base and foster new ideas and different ways of thinking about how to tackle complex challenges in the future.

Unfortunately, the most recent statistics from the National Science Foundation show women comprise only one-third of STEM graduate students while Black and Hispanic students combined account for less than 10 percent.

This is why we have joined with many our colleagues across the industry to make promoting STEM education a key focus of our CSR efforts. Working with several groups in this field, such as Change the Equation, we are proud to join with our colleagues in business to help students at all levels and across all demographics gain the skills and competencies they will need to succeed in the future.

Corporations can also use their CSR volunteer efforts to begin to address the opportunity gaps for students who have unequal access to qualified teachers and STEM resources. For example, research has found that across the U.S. there are millions of Black and Hispanic students who would enroll in STEM programs after school if only they could. Is there not a more perfect opportunity for volunteers to contribute their expertise?

By collaborating with schools, communities and STEM education groups, business can support this crucial education and instill a life-long love of learning in all young people while preparing the workforce of tomorrow. 

Mike Bodson is the President and CEO at DTCC. This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse on September 8, 2016 and was reprinted with permission from DTCC.

Tags: guest blog, diversity