STEM Beats - 2017

Doubly Disadvantaged in Massachusetts: High-Poverty Schools in a High-Flying State

July 18, 2017

Massachusetts has earned bragging rights for its successes in education.  Few other U.S. states have seen such swift gains in students’ performance over the past two decades. Massachusetts eighth-graders lead the nation in math and science, and they can even hold their own against students in high-performing countries like Japan and Singapore. These achievements are the legacy of bold and sustained school reform championed by visionary leaders.

Yet students in Massachusetts’s poorest schools might as well live in a different state. We took a closer look at data from The Nation’s Report Card and found that those students have not fared as well as their peers in wealthier schools—particularly in science.

In Massachusetts schools where more than 75 percent of students qualify for free or subsidized lunch, eighth-graders seem to have lost ground in math between 2013 and 2015:*

In science, students in high-poverty schools are barely keeping pace with their peers nationwide:

Students in the state’s high-poverty schools lack opportunities to learn math and science. For example, they have less access to teachers with the background and support they need to teach the subjects:

Students in the state’s high-poverty schools also lack facilities and materials for science:

(To read more about high-poverty schools in Massachusetts, download our Massachusetts PowerPoint presentation on the subject.)

We don’t mean to pick on Massachusetts, which has been a trailblazer in school reform. Rather, Massachusetts offers a stark reminder that deep inequities can lurk behind our most inspiring success stories.

Massachusetts suffers from a problem that afflicts the nation as a whole, as our recent brief on high-poverty schools illustrates. The solutions we suggest in the brief aren't easy--shoring up teacher preparation, making teaching resources more broadly available, expanding access to excellent afterschool programs, among others.

Still, such efforts are critical at a time when one in six Massachusetts students--and one in for students nationwide--attends a high-poverty school.

NEW BRIEF: Ending the Double Disadvantage

July 6, 2017

Poor students who attend schools where the vast majority of their peers are poor as well labor under a double disadvantage. They suffer the deprivations of poverty, and their schools concentrate those deprivations. Students in schools where more than 75 percent of students are eligible for free or subsidized lunches are much least likely to have access to STEM resources, experiences, and classes most wealthy parents would demand for their children.

Change the Equation released a brief today with extensive new data on the problem and suggestions for tackling it: Ending the Double Disadvantage: Ensuring STEM Opportunities in our Poorest Schools. Download the brief and share it widely to raise awareness of this critical challenge.

One quarter of the nation's K-12 students attend schools where more than 75 percent of their peers qualify for free or subsidized lunches--and that share is growing. We cannot afford to squander than much talent.

Tags: low-income students

Remembering Mitchell Chester

June 29, 2017

We were stunned and deeply saddened by news that Mitchell Chester, the nation's longest-serving state superintendent of education, passed away unexpectedly on Monday night. 

In the nine years he served as Massachusetts state schools Commissioner, Dr. Chester was one of the nation's most consequential school reformers, a trailblazer in issues as diverse as standards, digital testing, charter schools, and teacher development.

CTEq CEO Linda Rosen was privileged to serve with Dr. Chester on the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for The Nation's Report Card. "Mitchell had a way of asking hard, thoughtful questions that reflected a lifetime of experience as a change-maker in schools and districts," Rosen said. "He quickly moved beyond merely theoretical discussions or debates that strayed from his highest goal: namely, helping children."

His sudden passing from cancer took us by surprise.  He left us much too soon, but his legacy will outlive us all.

Five Top STEM High Schools for Inclusion & Equity

June 15, 2017

The U.S. News & World Report recently released its list of the Best High Schools for STEM across the nation. Schools like these help address STEM skills shortages felt by employers nationwide. But some of the schools on this list are especially dedicated to addressing the STEM challenges of inclusion and equity with programs and recruitment efforts that strengthen STEM pipelines for underrepresented groups. These high-achieving STEM schools make sure to serve the women, low-income, African American, and Hispanic students in their communities. Because the future of innovation relies heavily on our ability to find talent in untapped markets, we love to see schools ensuring STEM literacy for ALL. Check out these five champions of inclusion and equity in STEM education based on our analysis of the best high schools for STEM:

5. Early College at Guilford (Greensboro, NC)

National Ranking: #62

STEM Ranking: #4

Inclusion & Equity Score: 14/19

Early College at Guilford, the third ranked school in North Carolina, stands out because its students graduate with a high school diploma and up to two years of college credit from Guilford College. For those studying STEM subjects, this combination of diploma and college credits can lead to jobs with a strong living wage in a state where the median earnings for STEM jobs more than double the median earnings for all other jobs. That’s especially good news for the Early College’s 10 percent of students in the free and reduced lunch program if they or their families are unable to afford additional schooling.  

4. Troy High School (Fullerton, CA)

National Ranking: #326

STEM Ranking: #25

Inclusion & Equity Score: 17/19

The Troy Tech Magnet Program at Troy High School helps 93 percent of its student population reach proficiency or better in math, well above the California school district’s average (58 percent). These numbers are impressive considering too few students in the state, particular students of color, have access to knowledgeable STEM teachers. But with some of the best teachers in the state of California, Troy seems to tackle this problem well. Strong teachers paired with challenging STEM AP course offerings earns the 30-year-old STEM program in this diverse school a spot on the U.S. News' list.

3. Academy for Allied Health Sciences (Scotch Plains, NJ)

National Ranking: #200

STEM Ranking: #28

Inclusion & Equity Score: 17/19

The diversity of the student body at the Academy for Allied Health Sciences very closely mirrors that of the U.S. population, making it the most racially and socio-economically representative STEM school on our list. Also, we’re happy to see 91 percent of the largely female student-body (67 percent) scoring proficient or better in math; this is quite an accomplishment since female high school students in New Jersey lag behind their male counterparts in math performance.  Through challenging STEM coursework and learning opportunities at healthcare facilities, the school ensures student preparation for college and careers as doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals. Just as impressive, the economically disadvantaged students (13 percent of those enrolled) at the Academy perform substantially better than the non-disadvantaged students—a sign that students' income does not correlate with school performance here.

2. DeBakey High School for Health Professions (Houston, TX)

National Ranking: #18

STEM Ranking: #9

Inclusion & Equity Score: 19/19

We can imagine having an affiliation with the Houston Premedical Academy at the University of Houston makes DeBakey High School a future doctor’s dream school. Speaking of STEM pathways, entrance into the Houston Premedical Academy—a program designed especially for DeBakey students—gets you provisional acceptance into the Baylor College of Medicine. Since women tend to dominate many health professions, it may not surprise you that 59 percent of DeBakey students are women. But a little under half, 42 percent, of the school’s population qualifies as economically disadvantaged. Even though women and minorities make up more than half of Texas’s population, those groups are much less likely to become STEM professionals. Debakey’s programs help pave the way to STEM jobs for many of Texas’s underserved youth.

1. School for the Talented and Gifted (Dallas, TX)

National Ranking: #4

STEM Ranking: #6

Inclusion & Equity Score: 19/19

The numbers just don’t lie. Sixty percent of the children enrolled in this school are women, 63 percent minority, and 27 percent in the free and reduced lunch program. But what’s really catching our eye is that 100 percent of the students considered disadvantaged scored proficient or above in math! Because this is a selective magnet program, the school receives funding based off it's ability to recruit and retain students outside of its local attendance zone. In a state where science and math performance is greatly divided by racial and income lines, this approach seems to work well. The stats clearly show that Dallas’ School for the Talented and Gifted has a formula for education that supports high-achievement for all of its diverse student body—no matter the ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status. Not to mention its partnerships with local universities increase students' STEM course offerings. This school just might have it all.

STEM high schools included in this list came from the 2017 U.S. News & World Report STEM Rankings. CTEq’s Inclusion & Equity Scores were based off a point system rewarding schools for the percentage of female students, the total percentage of minority students, the representation of black and Hispanic students, and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students. 

Tags: minorities, women & girls, STEM, Top 5

Do teachers have the resources they need in math? Troubling trends

June 13, 2017

Amidst the current avalanche of political news, it’s easy to forget that K-12 academic standards were recently a topic for fiery debate at statehouses and dinner tables across the country. But let’s not forget one of that debate’s biggest lessons: Standards could founder if teachers lack the tools and support to reach them.

New York State, which is still feeling the aftershocks of the debate, offers a compelling illustration of this lesson. The state adopted Common Core State Standards in 2010 and began implementing the standards in 2012. The state’s teachers union withdrew their support for the new standards in spring 2013, arguing that teachers lacked teaching materials and time to prepare students for tough state tests keyed to the new standards. The state’s plans to evaluate teachers using the results of those tests simply fanned the flames.

Survey data from The Nation’s Report Card reflect the dramatic decline in New York teachers’ satisfaction:

Fewer teachers say they have the support they need to teach math--chart

Between 2011 and 2013, the share of students whose teachers said they had “all” or “most” of the resources they needed to teach math tumbled by a stunning 24 percentage points.

Teachers’ discontent has had a lasting impact. Just this month, New York State is completing a review and revision of its state standards. State leaders backed down on much of their standards-based reform agenda after teachers found common cause with parents, who rebelled against challenging and time-consuming state tests tied to those standards.

The irony here is that New York State was a trailblazer in creating math curriculum and materials aligned to the new standards states adopted across the country. In 2012, the state funded the development of what would later become Eureka Math, which has become the nation’s most widely adopted math curriculum, and one of the most highly rated. 

That help came too late for teachers who would be accountable for student test results so soon after tougher standards came on the scene--and before the ink was dry on the new curricula. The causes of New York’s anti-standards revolt are complex, but teachers can quickly sour on standards if they lack the support they need.  

New York State offers an object lesson for the United States. While New York’s trendline in the chart above is alarming, the national trend is also unsettling. The percentage of U.S. students whose teachers feel they have the resources they need dropped steadily but significantly between 2011 and 2015. Almost one third of U.S. eighth-graders in 2015 were in math classrooms with teachers who said they lacked support. Advocates for standards should watch this trend carefully when new data come out for 2017.

Schools across the country are still adjusting to more demanding expectations for what their students should know and be able to do. The public debate over the standards may have ebbed, but the need to give teachers the resources and materials they need has not diminished one bit. 

Tags: standards, math, teachers

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