STEM Beats - STEMworks

Do You Run an Excellent STEM Program? Apply for Iowa Scale Up Initiative

September 5, 2017

If you need a respite from the daily diet of partisan gridlock and political brawling, take a look at Iowa. The bipartisan Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council there has opened doors to world-class STEM education opportunities for some 400,000 K-12 students across the state since 2012.

Today, the Council is working with Change the Equation to bring leading STEM education programs to as many as one in five Iowa students next school year. If you run a STEM education program, be sure to check out the new request for applications.

Iowa is among a growing of states where leaders from government, business, higher ed, and K-12 put aside political differences and collaborate to improve STEM Education. Most important, the state house commits substantial funds to the effort, which lends it influence and staying power. 

Would you like to see something similar take root in your own state? Learn how it's done from our short history of the Iowa effort, which is hot off the presses.  To understand the Council’s impressive impact, take a look at their 2015/16 outcomes report. Here's one especially compelling tidbit: "minority students who participated in the STEM Scale-Up Program scored an average of 10 percentage points higher in National Percentile Rank in mathematics and 8 points higher in science compared to minority students who had not participated."

We hope more states take Iowa's lead.

Tags: STEMworks

Schools and Districts Should Invest in What Works...but What if We Don't Know What Works?

July 27, 2017

Pity today’s school principals and superintendents. State and national leaders are urging them to focus their time and money on programs with very strong evidence that they work. That’s very sound advice, but it’s not easy to follow when such programs are few and far between. Fortunately, there are ways to help them school leaders navigate through a world where clear direction can be hard to come by.

Imagine for a moment that you’re a school superintendent whose mandates include beefing up computer science and engineering in your schools, a priority in your new state science standards. You head over to the two major websites that showcase education programs that meet the highest standards of evidence and find…nothing.

No offense to those two websites, The What Works Clearinghouse and Evidence for ESSA. Both provide invaluable information about programs that have proven their impact, and both should be required reading for school leaders everywhere. Yet of the literally thousands of STEM education programs in our schools in our schools today, both websites together feature only a few dozen, overwhelmingly in math.

Unfortunately, very few STEM programs have ironclad evidence that they work. That doesn’t have to mean programs that lack evidence don’t work. Many lack strong data on their outcomes for a host of good reasons. For example, their goals may be hard to measure with conventional metrics, or they cannot ethically create control groups without excluding students they need to serve. Most often, they simply lack the money for rigorous evaluations.

So what is a hapless school leader to do? She could choose the program with the slickest sales brochures, or she could choose from curated lists of programs that are likely to make a difference, even if data on impact are still hard to find. Change the Equation currently works with leaders in seven states and counting to create such lists. Our rigorous STEMworks review process helps state leaders review programs to find those that have strong theories of action rooted in research on what works. In Iowa, for example, schools and communities can apply for state funding to support STEM programs that have made it through the STEMworks review process.

STEMworks doesn't solve the problem that evidence of impact is so scarce, but others are on the case. Initiatives like Results for America and Project Evident are gearing up to help states, schools, and their nonprofit partners evaluate their efforts more rigorously and, in the process, build the base of evidence for what works. These efforts won't fill the evidence gap overnight, but we can imagine a future where clear evidence of impact can light the way forward for school leaders.

In the meantime, STEMworks offers state and local leaders a handy compass.

Tags: STEMworks

Michigan Tackles its STEM Challenge--with CTEq's Help

March 9, 2017

In the past few years, Michigan has roared back to life as a magnet for STEM jobs like engineering, and the state's employers are right to wonder if they will be able to fill those jobs with qualified people. Fortunately, we see strong signs that Michigan leaders are on the case.

On Tuesday, I was honored to testify before Michigan's House Education Reform Committee about Change the Equation's efforts to help the state identify and scale K-12 STEM education programs that are most likely to have an impact. CTEq's STEMworks has already helped rigorously-vetted programs, such as Engineering is Elementary and Project Lead the Way, receive $1 million in state funds. We have high hopes for much more to come.

Efforts like these are very timely. For a state that was ground zero in the Great Recession, Michigan has an uplifing story to tell about STEM jobs. For example, it has been a great place for engineers. The number of engineering jobs in the state grew 11 percent from 2006 and 2016, compared to a meager 2 percent for the nation as a whole. Engineering jobs will probably grow another 13 percent between 2016 and 2026, faster than the 11 percent projected for the nation. That amounts to tens of thousands of engineering jobs.

Will employers be able to find the engineering talent they need over the coming decade? That's a harder question to answer. There is some reason for concern. First, they cannot fully tap the state's minority talent. Black, Latinos, and American Indian Michiganders make up 23 percent of the state's college-age population but receive only 5 percent of engineering degrees and certificates:

Underrepresented minorities in engineering

Women are almost as scarce in the field:

Few female engineers

There's good news on the horizon: In late 2015, the state adopted academic standards in science that formally incorporate engineering principles. If other states that have adoped similar standards are any indication, all Michigan students, regardless of race or gender, will soon learn the fundamental principles of engineering.

Programs like those in STEMworks will only help.

Tags: STEMworks, engineering, women & girls, minorities

Six STEMworks Programs Receive a Major Endorsement in Indiana

October 13, 2016

Indiana’s I-STEM Resource Center is recommending six different science curricula in STEMworks as districts across the state gear up to adopt new curricular materials for science in 2017. A partnership of leaders in K-12 education, government, business, and universities, I-STEM worked with CTEq to identify programs that met our rigorous STEMworks criteria as well as exacting standards for science curriculum developed by I-STEM and the Purdue School of Engineering Education.

These aren’t your grandfather’s science curricula. Each engages students in hands-on, real-world experiences of science, engineering, and technology:

As districts adopt curriculum, these recommendations could carry substantial weight. Dozens of curriculum providers start knocking on district leaders’ doors when adoption time rolls around. CTEq and I-STEM are helping them separate the wheat from the chaff.

The partnership between CTEq and I-STEM represents a critical strategy to improve the quality of STEM education, one that we are pursuing in five other states and counting.

Tags: STEMworks

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