This week, CTEq hosted its members for an interactive webinar on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the internationally benchmarked science education framework that brings together strong practices, cross-cutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas to create student achievement standards for the 21st century.
Since the first developments of state education standards, major advances in science and understanding of how students learn science have taken place. In response to this, the Next Gen standards were crafted to identify the content, science, and engineering practices that all K-12 U.S. students should learn. Through the business lens, NGSS help lay the groundwork for a STEM literate workforce that can keep the U.S. competitive and innovative in the global economy.
Panelists Blair Blackwell (Chevron), Dr. Steven Pruitt, and Jason Weedon (both of Achieve) joined CTEq CEO Linda Rosen to discuss the standards, the adoption and implementation processes, and the corporate community's role in bringing Next Gen to schools nationwide.
So far, twelve states have adopted Next Gen standards, which amounts to reaching about 30 percent of the U.S. student population, according to Achieve. Nationally, Dr. Priuitt reported that almost 9 in 10 state chambers are focusing on college- and career-ready standards and are looking to each other to adapt best practices for their own implementation. We see this as a great indicator of more states adopting Next Gen in the coming months and years!
According to Blackwell, members of the business community are eager to rally around Next Gen's higher expectations as a way to improve student performance in science, build a STEM literate workforce for the future, and foster the critical thinking skills that are central to innovation. Chevron, a Commitment to Excellence signatory and proponent of higher standards, has focused its efforts in K-12 education around advocacy, research, and work with school leaders and teachers, along with students themselves.
CTEq is supporting its coalition of corporate members in backing Next Generation Science Standards by:
Next Gen standards combine content and application in order to teach students to apply what they learn in the classroom same way that scientists and engineers do in the workplace. This helps ensure that we're preparing students to put their science knowledge into practice in the workforce and preserve the spark that keeps the U.S. on the cutting edge of innovation. CTEq members understand the critical role that Next Gen plays in education today as well as the future of the American workforce and are working together to support their adoption and implementation in the states where they do business.
It's no shock that U.S. students have fallen behind other developed nations in international assessments of reading, math, and science (we issued a Science S.O.S. earlier this year on the topic), but there is surprising news out today regarding an area in which they show strength.
Released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), PISA 2012 Results: Creative Problem Solving: Students' Skills in Tackling Real-Life Problems reports that students in the U.S. exhibit above-average proficiency in problem solving and creative and critical thinking. The PISA assessment, administered every three years by OECD, examines how 15-year-olds in participating nations around the world compare in skill areas, both academic and practical. In this report, OECD focuses specifically on those real-world skills for the first time and attempts to measure their impact on economy and workforce demand.
In the assessment, students are presented with practical tasks - anything from identifying the best route between two cities to figuring out why an electronic device isn't working - and must utilize their creative and problem solving skills to complete them. Despite better-than-average results, the U.S. still ranked well below all participating countries in Asia and many major players in Europe. But a closer look reveals that American students excelled most in interactive tasks requiring them to gather additional information which, according to OECD, implies that they are "open to novelty, tolerate doubt and uncertainty, and dare to use intuition to initiate a solution." (If those qualities don't describe a scientist, engineer, programmer, or any STEM professional for that matter, we don't know what does!)
So what do these findings mean in terms of the global economy? OECD's Andreas Schleicher put it best in his presentation on today's release: "The world economy no longer pays you for what you know - Google knows everything. The world economy pays you for what you can do with what you know." Employers looking for talent to fill the jobs of today (and tomorrow) are demanding this type of practical knowledge and problem solving acumen, the foundations for which are laid in K-12 classrooms across the country every day.
STEM-literate U.S. students graduate from high school with critical thinking skills, most notably in the STEM disciplines. These skills have real-life applications in the workforce (STEM-related or not) and strength in these areas is increasingly regarded as the baseline for success in any position. They also represent the essential components for innovation and invention, two domains in which Americans generally believe themselves to lead the pack. However, other nations, even those whose rote learning techniques have branded their students as simply “book smart,” bested the U.S. in this practical skill assessment.
But we don't have to lose our edge.
One solution to this slippage lies in Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. These standards are set forth with critical thinking in mind, and offer the opportunity for students to get these skills throughout their education.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again here: If we are to make gains in international comparisons, we’ve got to stay the course on Common Core and adopt Next Gen. It may not be the only solution, but it’s one that we are poised to make good on. We can’t afford not to.
With the New Year now upon us, it’s the perfect time to look inward and identify ways to improve, strive, and broaden, even in STEM. In this spirit, Change the Equation is challenging states to make (and keep) a resolution: enrich the school days of U.S. students by encouraging schools to spend more time on science in 2014 and beyond.
In our new Vital Signs data release, CTEq can gladly report that, overall, elementary schools increased the amount of time spent on science from 2.3 hours per week in 2008 to 2.6 hours per week in 2012. However, when you consider the steady decline from three hours per week in 1994 and the fact that, currently, students are exposed to such a critical subject for only about a half hour per day, it's easy to see why we're sending out an S.O.S. for science.
Many states are dedicating more time for science education. Schools in Texas, for example, spend 3.8 hours per week, up from 3.3 hours in only four years. Unfortunately, though, we’ve seen other states’ science-committed classroom time plummet: New Hampshire, from 2.9 to 1.6 hours in less than 20 years; Colorado, from 2.9 to 1.8 hours; Nevada, from 2.8 to 1.7 hours.
Perhaps the most telling (and concerning) evidence comes with the recent release of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) findings on science scores: in the last three years, the U.S. has fallen even further in the global rankings, from seventeenth to twenty-first place. Beyond that, only half of states actually hold schools accountable for meeting science standards, which can vary greatly and often set a very low bar for proficiency.
The issue here is not only dedicating more time to science but using that time well and setting consistent benchmarks for achievement. Some states are adopting Next Generation Science Standards, which allow teachers to cover fewer, more essential topics in greater depth while still building skills in vital areas like reading and math, subjects that have commonly pushed science out of the curriculum. These standards can help schools provide substantive and sustained exposure to science so that we can build the foundation of STEM literacy beginning in elementary classrooms.
Want to see where your state stands on science and whether you need to sound the S.O.S.? Download the full Science S.O.S. infographic and check out the brand new Time for Science data in Vital Signs under “Challenging Content." You can also see all the state numbers and more by following the #ScienceSOS hashtag on Twitter. And let’s all resolve to get our states to spend more time on science in 2014!
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.
The New York Times had a fantastic and thorough special look at STEM education this week. All the articles are worth a read, though we recognize that's a tall order the day after Labor Day. A few key (and often familiar) takeaways are below: