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Change the Equation Blog

The CTEq blog is the voice for STEM learning, offering insightful research and fun facts. We welcome your thoughts and encourage you to post your comments.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - 11:47

The Winter Olympics are just around the corner and, although the games date back to ancient times, one piece of modern technology has completely changed the way many athletes compete for glory.  On January 16, 1936, the first photo-finish camera was installed at the Hialeah Park Race Track in Florida.  While it was initially intended to determine the winners in horse racing, the use of this tech has expanded to other high-speed events including many of those at the Olympic games and is often pivotal in determining the difference between a silver and a gold medal.

High-speed camera technology involves capturing a series of photos - thousand per second! - at the instant that competitors cross the finish line.  Interestingly, these photos are only a few pixels wide.  Ever wonder why the backgrounds of the images are usually white, unlike the actual track?  The cameras are painstakingly positioned to capture only the width of the finish line, oftentimes painted white, and reveal the entire moment once a computer stitches them into a composite image. 

Photo finish 


The precision of this process means that the difference between winning and losing is often only a matter of milliseconds.  Despite the fact that photo finish technology has meant a complete reinvention of the way athletes train, there are still times when even the fastest camera can't dispute an absolute dead heat.

We’re looking forward to the Sochi Olympics even more now that we understand the science and technology behind the photo finish!  We’ll have even more information on how STEM impacts the Olympics in an upcoming blog post, too.  Are you interested in STEM and the Olympics?  Tell us in a comment what you’re looking forward to seeing and learning when the Olympics kick off on February 7!  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 11:49

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013 - 12:23

Here at Change the Equation, we love space and we love trivia, which is why we were particularly drawn to this little tidbit . . . on December 19, 1958, the first radio broadcast from space brought a message from President Dwight Eisenhower to the Earth below. 

The transmission aired continuously as the world's first communications satellite orbited the planet.  In March 2013, this recording was selected by the Library of Congress to join others in the National Recording Registry, marking its great historical significance. Eisenhower’s brief words relay the sense of awe at this scientific breakthrough, which ushered in a new age of communications capabilities, as well as wish for the joyful season. 

"Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you via a satellite circling in outer space.  Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind, America's wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere." 

And so, in the spirit of Eisenhower’s message, albeit not transmitted from space – merely from our humble blog, we’d like to wish you very happy holidays, and best wishes for a New Year bursting with innovation and wonder.

2013 CTEq Holiday Card

Monday, December 16, 2013 - 16:26

Dec STEM Salon

In this month's STEM Salon, our panel discussed the alarming state of women and girls in computer science.  Change the Equation's newest Vital Signs brief, Half Empty: As Men Surge Back into Computing, Women Are Left Behind points out the sizable gender gap in computing and illustrates the dire need for an increased flow of talent through the pipeline in order to meet current and future demand.

Panelists Kimberly Bryant (Black Girls Code), and CTEq members Allyson Knox (Microsoft), and Alison Derbenwick Miller (Oracle) tackled this issue, examining its causes and outlining ways in which the gap can be surmounted. 

Check out the discussion below and make sure to join us for more STEM Salons in 2014!


Monday, December 9, 2013 - 13:14

Here at CTEq, we're issuing a "code red."

As STEM educators, students, and enthusiasts across the country begin  celebrating Computer Science Education  Week, we've taken a step back to examine the big picture with our newest Vital Signs brief, Half Empty: As Men Surge Back Into Computing, Women are Left Behind, and the outlook is alarming:

Graph of degrees/certificates to women

The number of women in computing has not only dropped to a mere quarter of the workforce, but its further decline could lead to a disastrous shortage of computer science talent that will fail to keep up with rising global demand.

Computing Jobs graphic

Worse yet, one of the main contributing factors to this growing issue is a troublesome societal message that women and girls are getting: computers are not for you.

Luckily, intrepid organizations like Girlstart, she++, and Black Girls Code are working to stem the tide and empower female students to pursue their interests in computing.  Their efforts, coupled with vital, 21st-century enhancements to graduation requirements and standards, can breathe new life into the future of women and girls in computer science. 

Check out our new infographic on women in computing:

Women in computing infographic

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 15:27

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.

Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 22:12

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 stuens 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.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - 09:28

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.

Thursday, October 24, 2013 - 12:46

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.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - 13:33

Is the shortage of workers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) a myth or a reality? There has been much sound and fury recently from people who say it’s a myth. We’ve long said that it’s a reality.  Now, a new and very credible voice has weighed in: talent recruiters at Fortune 1000 companies. Verdict? It’s all too real.

Yesterday, Bayer Material Science and Change the Equation released findings from a survey of 150 Fortune 1000 talent recruiters at a STEM Salon in Washington, DC. The findings leave little doubt about the challenges companies are facing. Here’s just a sample:

  • About two thirds (67 percent) of talent recruiters said there are more STEM than non-STEM jobs being created at their companies today. More than half—53 percent—of talent recruiters at non-STEM companies held that view.
  • A full three fourths (75 percent) of talent recruiters—including 68 percent at non-STEM companies—said that STEM job creation would outpace non-STEM job creation ten years from now.
  • An overwhelming majority (89 percent) reported that competition is “fierce” for people with four-year degrees in STEM. Forty-three percent report fierce competition for people with two-year degrees in STEM.
  • Only about half say they can find enough qualified job candidates with two or four year degrees. Of those who say they cannot, more than nine in ten attribute their challenges to a shortage of qualified STEM candidates.
  • Less than 20 percent said they were seeing enough African American, Hispanic or American Indian candidates.
  • More than half (56 percent) said these shortages had lowered their companies productivity.

None of the distinguished speakers at our event was surprised by these results. Dr. Mae Jemison, a lifelong STEM advocate and the first African American woman astronaut, presented the findings to a full house. Afterwards, a panel of distinguished experts in business and higher education discussed their implications. As their remarks made clear, everyone has a stake—and a role—in reversing the STEM shortage:

  • Colleges and universities should stop taking pride in the selectivity of their STEM programs—which often amounts to how many STEM students they fail. Rather, they should help more students succeed in STEM fields.
  • Businesses should do a better job of recognizing the STEM talent in unexpected places. While we need to expand the numbers of people graduating with STEM degrees, people without such credentials might possess critical STEM skills gained through certification, military careers, experience and many other ways.
  • The K-12 community should do more to explore career and technical pathways that may not lead to a 4-year degree but that can lead to very rewarding STEM work.
  • Parents and opinion leaders should stop denigrating vocational pathways. College readiness is a critical goal, but more students need hands-on experience with the kinds of exciting jobs that might not require a bachelor’s degree.

Stay tuned for video from the event.

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