STEM Beats - February 2017

Pennsylvania's Gender Divide in Career/Technical Education

February 23, 2017

Last Friday, I was honored to give a plenary talk to an inspiring group of career and technical education (CTE) advocates at the Winter Meeting of the Pennslyvania Association of Career & Technical Administrators. Before traveling to the Keystone State, I looked into some data on the condition of STEM CTE there. Two conclusions leapt out at me:

  1. In Pennsylvania, STEM CTE creates a pathway to solid and plentiful middle class jobs;
  2. The pathways young Pennsylvanians choose depend largely on their gender. 

In both regards, Pennsylvania resembles the nation as a whole. At a time when STEM employers are looking for all the talent they can get, this gender segregation is bad for their bottom line, the nation, and the thousands of young people who need access to more and better jobs. The good news is that advocates and educators in Pennsylvania are on the case.

You can download my presentation to PACTA here, or check out some of the major takeaways below:

Middle-skill STEM jobs in PA

PA girls flock to health CTE, avoid other STEM fields

PA STEM Gender imbalance--cte

Computing credentials below bachelors plummet

Engineering: PA women gain in bachelor's, fall in subbaccalaureate

Tags: Career Technical Education, women & girls

New Data: New Science Standards Are Boosting Engineering in Schools

February 21, 2017

Let's usher in this year's National Engineers Week with some good news. We've crunched some numbers, and it looks like efforts to make engineering part of the K-12 curriculum are beginning to pay off. 

Why? Our guess is that the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are succeeding in their aim to integrate engineering and technology into science classrooms. These standards debuted in April 2013, and eight states adopted them by the end of that year: California, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington State.

We had a look at data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) eighth-grade science test to see if schools in those eight states were teaching more engineering and technology. NAEP is a good tool for this exploration, because it surveys teachers and students about engineering and technology in the classroom, among other subjects.

What we found suggests that the Next Generation Science Standards are making a difference in schools. Between 2011 and 2015, teachers in the first states to adopt the standards increased the amount of class time they spent on engineering and technology:

NGSS is boosting class time

Sticklers might note that these gains could have occurred before April 2013, when the new standards burst upon the scene. Unfortunately, we can't settle that question definitively, because we lack data from that year. Still, the data we do have make a very strong case for NGSS. States that adopted the standards after 2013, or that never adopted them at all, saw smaller gains between 2011 and 2015.

One striking finding from our analysis is that the early adopter states started from behind. This pattern holds when we examine each of those states individually. In 2011, eighth-graders in our eight NGSS states were less likely than their peers in the nation as a whole to spend at least "some" time on engineering and technology. The picture looked dramatically different in 2015:

Individual states ramping up engineering & tech

What does it mean to spend "some" or "a lot" of time on engineering and technology? The results of another NAEP survey question offer at least some insight: "About how often do your science students discuss the kinds of problems that engineers can solve?" Here again, it appears that the NGSS states started well behind their peers but caught up:

NGSS boosting engineering in classrooms

These data reinforce our conclusion that teachers in NGSS states have grown more likely to focus on engineering. So far, so good. But are their students noticing the difference? The results of another NAEP survey item suggest that they are...but only up to a point.

NGSS students more likely to notice tech & engineering

Again, the NGSS states have made swifter progress than other states, but it seems a tad early to declare victory. Even though more than half (52 percent) of eighth-graders have science teachers who spend time on engineering and technology, far fewer (31 percent) seem to have noticed that fact.

Of course, students may still be learning about engineering and technology without realizing it, but their lack of awareness is troubling. After all, the Standards themselves specify that students should "understand the work of scientists and engineers" and "recognize" that what engineers do is "a creative endeavor." We know we haven't reached the goal line if so many students don't yet recognize engineering or technology when they see it.

On balance, though, we should be optimistic. We have strong evidence that standards can make a difference in the classroom, and in a relatively short time. In fact, engineering and technology are probably more pervasive now than our numbers suggest: almost two years have passed since the 2015 NAEP test, and more states have adopted the Standards.

The ultimate test of the Standards' success, of course, will be students' performance. That verdict will have to wait a bit longer. States are still developing tests that incorporate engineering--and they can use federal money to do it. And a representative sample of U.S. eighth-graders will take NAEP's next Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment in 2018.

In the meantime, states and districts must continue the hard work of creating teaching materials, training teachers, and providing supplies to make engineering real in the classroom. If they succeed, future Engineers Weeks will bring even better news.

NOTE: We were not able to assess the impact of NGSS on another jurisdiction that adopted them before 2014: Washington, DC. Unfortunately, the 2015 science NAEP did not include state-level results for DC.

Tags: engineering, computer science, Next Generation Science Standards

Technical school can offer big rewards--if you have a strong academic foundation

February 9, 2017

For a good summary of why high schoolers shouldn't pin all their college aspirations on just four-year degrees, head over toThe New York Times. Author Jeffrey Selingo mounts a strong defense of technical degrees, certifications, and apprenticeships.

Here's the money quote (quite literally):

[Georgetown University] research has found that 40 percent of middle-skills jobs pay more than $55,000 a year; some 14 percent pay more than $80,000 (by comparison, the median salary for young adults with a bachelor’s degree is $50,000).

There is a catch, however. Students who struggle academically in K-12 will face an uphill battle in technical school, and they are much less likely to land these rewarding jobs. Selingo's piece opens with a shocking anecdote:

When the German engineering company Siemens Energy opened a gas turbine production plant in Charlotte, N.C., some 10,000 people showed up at a job fair for 800 positions. But fewer than 15 percent of the applicants were able to pass a reading, writing and math screening test geared toward a ninth-grade education.

That amounts to thousands of people who are hungry to work but lack the skills to get available jobs. As we consider how to reinvigorate communities ravaged by the loss of traditional manufacturing work, education has to be a big part of the answer.

Fortunately, some companies, like Siemens, John Deere, and Dow are tackling the challenge head on by collaborating with community colleges to create education and training programs that lead to good jobs. Check out Selingo's account to learn more.

Tags: jobs & workforce