STEM Beats - STEM & the states

Science S.O.S.!

January 7, 2014

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. 

Science SOS gif

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.

Low stakes

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!

Science SOS infographic

Tags: science, Vital Signs, infographic, STEM & the states, Next Generation Science

Common core: a solution for education stagnation

December 3, 2013

The results of a major international test of 15-year-olds came out this morning, and the U.S. doesn’t have much to brag about. In the Programme for International Assessment (PISA), our teens were only about average in reading and science, and they trailed the international average in math. Worse, the U.S. has just been treading water since 2003, while other countries, most notably in Asia, have shot ahead.  But the PISA report did point to one U.S. strategy that could vault us forward: Common Core State Standards.

The Common Core State Standards, which 45 U.S. states have recently adopted, are more likely to expose U.S. students to the kinds of math students in high-flying countries tend to master. The PISA report finds that U.S. teens are relatively good at easier mathematical tasks like “handling well-structured formulae.” Yet they are weak in “performing mathematics tasks with higher cognitive demands, such as taking real-world situations, translating them into mathematical terms, and interpreting mathematical aspects in real-world problems.”

In other words, they have trouble applying math in complex real-world contexts. Common Core standards are much more likely to boost these higher cognitive skills: “a successful implementation of the Common Core Standards would yield significant performance gains also in PISA,” the report concludes.

That is good news, indeed. U.S. employers need workers who can use what they have learned to solve knotty problems in world where global competition is constantly changing the rules of engagement. Our students’ stagnant scores on PISA provide yet one more proof that states should stand strong for high standards.

Tags: Common Core, standards, STEM & the states

New Math Scores: Are We Losing Steam?

November 7, 2013

Results from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) came out today, and they tell a somewhat depressing story. The math scores of U.S. fourth and eighth graders rocketed upwards from at least 1990 until about 2005, when they began to level off. Why are our students losing steam? Perhaps the big reforms states launched more than 20 years ago have delivered all the results they can. The message here? It's time for another shock to the system.

Here's what the trend in 4th grade math scores looks like (and 8th grade is pretty similar):

NAEP Graph

In the early '90s, most states started adopting standards for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. Those standards lent coherence to what schools taught and helped teachers spot areas where students were falling short of the mark. For the next decade and a half, students made substantial gains. 

Yet the standards movement was far from perfect. Many states' standards weren't all that great. All too often, states set a low bar for passing the tests that measured how well students learned what was on the standards. Many teachers didn't get the support they needed to teach to those standards. The gains are petering out.

Now we might get another bite at the apple. Forty-five states have adopted Common Core State Standards, which are more challenging and coherent that most states' previous standards. The lion's share of those states are developing common tests to measure how well students master those standards, and they will probably come together to set a high bar for passing those tests. Now, states also have an opportunity to give teachers the support and training they need to help students clear that high bar. If all those stars align--and there are no guarantees that they will--we might see more big gains.

This is all a bit speculative, of course, but the anemic growth of the last five or so years should make it clear that we're due for another big reform. (See this 2012 paper from the Fordham Foundation, which made that argument in pretty convincing terms.) Time will tell whether Common Core standards will deliver on its promise, but we're optimistic.

Tags: math, standards, STEM & the states

Some states are riding high. Others? Not so much.

November 5, 2013

We often hear that the United States lags behind other nations in its students math performance. That's very true, but the picture gets a bit more complicated when you look at what's happening in different states. The map below, from the Huffington Post, drives home that important point.

On average, students in Massachusetts perform at the level of Japanese students. Not too shabby! Students in Alabama? They're on par with students in Armenia. 

image from

Hat tip: Alexander Russo.

Tags: math, STEM & the states

NY Times takes a deep dive into STEM learning

September 3, 2013

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: 


Again, if you've got some time, we highly encourage you to check out the articles. Together, while they highlight new areas of inquiry and potential for policy directions, they also show the progress that many programs and states have made in creating meaningful, contextual STEM education for a whole new generation of kids. 
Tags: STEM & the states, Common Core, Next Generation Science