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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.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - 07:09

Action on Capitol Hill last week effectively quashed the administration’s request to halve the existing 226 STEM learning programs currently spread across 13 federal agencies at a cost of $3 billion. Citing duplications and ineffectiveness, the administration’s proposal sought to consolidate federal responsibility for STEM learning at the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution. The relevant Senate Appropriations Subcommittee apparently did not buy it. We’ll leave to others a discussion of the merits of the particular proposal. But we applaud the growing chorus of voices that are making quality the centerpiece of any discussion about STEM learning.

After years of investment and reform, we should be thankful for any commitment to supporting practices, policies and programs that yield results and either improving or shutting down those that do not. The fact that not every idea or solution is necessarily a good one often gets lost in the post-Sputnik era when proselytizers tout new ideas with Madison Avenue verve. This hype is counterproductive in the long run. Educators have become used to keeping their heads down until the latest silver bullet runs its course. Funders become disenchanted when promised results don’t materialize. Policymakers balk at spending more political capital to defend STEM investments when the payoff has been so uncertain in the past.

Change the Equation’s coalition of companies have also lost patience with grand claims about STEM programs that do not deliver the goods. Working with CTEq, many are carefully reviewing the efficacy and impact of their own philanthropy and talking with the nonprofits they support about principles of quality. With annual STEM learning investments nearing two-thirds of a billion dollars, CTEq members can have a profound impact on young people—assuming those investments go towards programs that have the best track record or show the most promise. Our Design Principles, Rubric, and STEMworks database of already-vetted, effective programs are helping companies get a bigger bang for their buck at a time when public and private dollars are getting scarcer. We are now embarking on work to help companies rally around a handful of programs that have proven their ability to make a real difference at scale. Companies are impatient to see their efforts move beyond supporting islands of excellence.It’s time to ignore the hype and put the focus where it belongs -- on quality.

Friday, July 19, 2013 - 10:52

Happy birthday, Mr. Mayo!

Today is the 148th birthday of Charles Horace Mayo, a doctor whose family's private practice grew into the world-famous Mayo Clinic, one of the largest medical research facilities and treatment centers in the world. Mayo joined the practice as a young physician and, when his father retired, took over control of the practice at 27. 

Mayo is known for its innovations in hospital systems, like the creation of the medical record, the residency program during medical school, and medical specialization. Charles, for instance, focused on thyroid and neurosurgery, and his insistance on sterile surgeries led to much greater success in the field than seen previously. He was elected head of the American Medical Association in 1916. After retiring in 1930, he passed away from pneumonia in 1939. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - 09:53

It's Tuesday, so we've got all the STEM news that's fit to print. 

Are Kids Who Make Their Own Video Games Better Prepared For the Digital Future?, Fortune, July 9

Video-game creation used to seen as firmly in the domain of those wearing pocket protectors, but thankfully that is changing. Here's one dad's account of the skills his son gained during a summer camp module on video-game programming. 

High tech and the long road to 'full employment', Washington Post, July 14

While the recession may have ended, the economy has not rebounded the way we would have hoped. Robert Samuelson takes a look at how tech is replacing older jobs, but also takes a historic look at how new developments have led to new jobs in new places. The economy is adaptive, and he's optimistic that we'll see the same sort of regrowth -- but cautions it may take a while. 

Today's Students Stuck in Yesterday's Programs, U.S. News, July 8

A recent Brookings report took a hard look at the availability of 'middle jobs' in the United States -- jobs that require more than a high-school diploma but less than a full college degree. Many of the highest-paying middle jobs are STEM-related, and require a combination of certifications, associate degrees, and on-the-job training to learn the material. Unfortunately, the current K-12 system doesn't always provide a smooth transition for students looking to head in that direction. This commentary has suggestions for how to update our system. 

Nate Silver Crunches the Humanities, The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 15

Nate Silver, of the popular statistics blog Five Thirty Eight on the New York Times, wrote a blog post a few weeks ago predicting the end of humanities as majors become more career-focused. In this post, an English professor backs his assertions up. 

Monday, July 15, 2013 - 11:01

The New York Times came out with a pretty all-encompassing education editorial over the weekend, taking a crack at standardized testing, teacher preparation programs, teacher evaluation, comparisons to Finland, federal education reforms like Race to the Top, and implementation of Common Core State Standards. It's a lot to digest, and makes several valid points, and can easily be misinterpreted. We hope that it's not. 

The Times attempts to undo the Gordian knot of U.S. education by pinning much of the blame on the annual high-stakes tests required by No Child Left  Behind. In this narrative, NCLB fueled our nationwide "obsession" with testing -- and students' mediocre performance on tests, particularly when compared to peers in other countries -- and this has led to teachers to 'teach to the test,' to show the progress mandated by NCLB. Teachers are further hamstrung by newer reforms that tie their continued employment to evaluations based on test scores; even further, many teachers are not adequately prepared before they enter the classroom, challenging them to help students. The end result is that teachers, parents, students, and administrators are all stressed and overwhelmed. 

The Times makes several good points, and its ultimate conclusion -- that high-quality tests should be administered once or twice a year -- is sound. But its position could easily be misinterpreted to support current efforts to scale back on testing that are popping up across the country.

The real problem with the current tests is mentioned only briefly in the editorial: Many of the current tests aren't good tests. They don't hold students to a rigorous bar and don't evaluate deep knowledge. Our analysis shows that of states' current science tests, only a fraction hold students to the high bar set by the National Assessment of Education Progress. Unsurprisingly, the states with the strongest assessments, like Massachusetts, also regularly have some of the strongest test scores and most coherent teacher-support systems. The root of the problem isn't with testing, it's with the actual tests. 

That's why it's so important that we get new tests right. Two testing consortiums, Smarter Balanced and PARCC, are creating tests aligned to the new Common Core State Standards. Improvements in technology over the last 12 years and the new standards could combine to create rigorous tests that accurately reflect what students need to learn, and give informative feedback to teachers struggling to help students.

But being fearful of the results -- particularly in the transition -- and dialing back on rigor will only undermine the entire enterprise. We need to overhaul our testing system, and we have an opportunity to do it well. The Times editorial focuses on very real, and potentially very negative, consequences that could result from testing and improper implementation of new tests. To circumvent those consequences, let's obsess about making a good test.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 10:46

As you settle back into the office after the long weekend, catch up on what's happened in STEM with our weekly news roundup. 

Math, Science Popular Until Students Realize They're Hard, Wall Street Journal

Students starting, then quitting STEM majors is not a new problem. But this shortage is frequently framed as enough students simply not being interested in STEM in the first place. A new study has found a more nuanced take on it: Many students in the study are initially extremely interested in pursuing a math and science degree. However, once they begin course work, they found it much harder than anticipated, and found that good grades weren't a natural consequence of hard work. Students then become discouraged and quit. 

This has implications for both K-12 and higher education. Obviously, stronger preparation in K-12 will help students confront the mountain of work in Bio and Chem 101, and that is cited by the researchers as a key deterrant for many students. But greater support at the secondary level would also help students navigate the heavy courseload and the grading format of college courses. To create more successful STEM graduates, we need to work from both ends. 

Should Colleges Charge Engineers More Than English Majors?, The Atlantic

Florida made waves last year with its proposal to charge students less for 'job-friendly majors,' like STEM degrees. One of the biggest criticisms of the plan was that STEM majors often cost the school up to five times as much as a social-science or liberal-arts degree, and that some schools actually charge more for costlier programs, which are often the STEM programs. Now, a working paper out of the University of Michigan examined the minority of schools who charge a premium for business, nursing, or engineering majors. The results may bolster Florida's case. 

The study authors found that students' interest in an engineering degree dropped when they were charged more, despite the potential future earnings. It also found that, in the case of engineering degrees, Pell Grant recipients were the most sensitive to variations in price. Simply put, charging more for tuition in engineering could dampen initiatives to create a more diverse engineering workforce. 

The results don't endorse the Florida plan, but certainly provide food for thought. It's clear that degree price does -- as it should -- play a part in students' career path, and it's up to policymakers to find a tenable balance between schools and students. 

A University's Offer of Credit for a MOOC Gets No Takers, The Chronice

MOOCs have been a fascinating technological add to higher education in the last few years, as they've provoked discussions on the value of a degree and how to measure learning. Colorado State University's decision to charge a nominal fee -- $89 for a credit, well under the thousand students are typically charged -- was closely watched. Now, it seems to have failed: No students have signed up for the course. Providers are learning more about the 'typical' MOOC student as online courses proliferate, and it appears they are not providing the hoped-for access. Most MOOC students, for instance, already have degrees. Watching how MOOCs develop over the next few years -- particularly whether they're able to grant students from low-income backgrounds access -- will be very interesting indeed. 

5 Steps to STEM Effectiveness, Huffington Post

Here's a quick guide to how to implement a strong STEM program at the school level. The suggestions are common sense, and can only be underlined during the implementation stage of STEM school development. 

7 Year Old Dreams of Mars, So NASA Sent Him This, Mashable

Plenty of young kids dream of being astronauts, but few end up writing to NASA for advice. This 7-year-old did, and the response that he got from NASA is pretty darn cute. 


Tuesday, July 2, 2013 - 10:06

Maria CardonaGuest blogger inSPIRE STEM USA's Co-Chair Maria Cardona submitted this post detailing the STEM fund currently making its way through Congress aimed at strengthening the STEM pipeline. 

From your organization’s perspective, why is it necessary to strengthen the STEM pipeline? And what are the best ways to accomplish it?

America faces an acute STEM jobs gap, and what makes the crisis worse is that we aren’t producing enough students trained in those fields to fill those jobs in the future.  STEM-related occupations are the second-fastest growing in the country, coming in just behind jobs in the health care industry, according to a Georgetown University study.  And while the nation is expected to have more than 8.6 million STEM-related jobs available in 2018, the National Math and Science Initiative warns as many as three million of those jobs could go unfilled at the current rate the U.S. produces workers trained in STEM. 

If the nation is to keep up with the growing number of jobs in STEM and computer science and keep pace with its global competitors, we need to invest in strengthening STEM education programs and our STEM pipeline throughout the country. 

One of the reasons many people in the education community are following immigration reform legislation in Congress is that the bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate and legislation under consideration in the House now include a proposed national STEM education fund.  The fund would be created by additional fees on employers seeking visas and green cards to hire foreign workers in STEM areas. 

How will the proposed STEM fund contribute to strengthening the pipeline and address the disparities for women and minorities?

Given the demographic trends of the U.S., we will have to do a better job, not just in creating more STEM graduates, but also in attracting more women and minorities to these fields. 

Just 18 percent of undergraduate computing and information science degrees are awarded to women, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology. And while Latino, African-Americans and American Indians account for 34 percent of the population between the ages of 18 and 24, they earn just 12 percent of all undergraduate degrees in engineering.

These disparities become all the more challenging when you consider that over recent years, most states have cut their education spending.  And education funding for 35 states this year were below 2008 levels. A substantial nation fund is needed to help states boost their STEM education programs and provide more opportunities for more students, particularly women and minorities, to study in these fields. 

The Senate comprehensive immigration bill includes funding for expanded STEM education at colleges and universities that serve minority populations.

What are the implications if this fund is not approved, and what are some alternatives to get the job done?

It’s difficult to overstate the challenge facing our nation on this front, and that’s one of the reasons we see bi-partisan support for a solution.  It is in everyone’s interest – business and education leaders, elected leaders and our students – to produce a workforce able to fill jobs in the rapid-growing STEM fields.

Without a national commitment in this area, the U.S. will continue to lose ground to other nations. Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, notes the Chinese government instituted a “Thousand Talents” as part of a “major push to develop new research universities and to accommodate the demand for millions of new scientists and engineers by high-tech companies in China.”

He rightly notes that America, in order to remain competitive, must have its own Thousand Talents programs.  The world isn’t waiting for the U.S. to catch up; that’s an initiative we’ll have to take all our own.  With comprehensive immigration reform passing in the Senate and negotiations currently taking place in the House, we might be well on the way.

Friday, June 28, 2013 - 08:39

Have U.S. twelfth graders made any progress in math since the 1970s? The answer is no, if we’re to believe news stories about the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which released the results of its long-term math and science tests yesterday. Yet those news stories don’t have it quite right.

It is true that, overall, 17 year olds’ scores barely budged from 1973 to 2012. They rose a scant two points. But things look a bit different when you break down the data by racial and ethnic group. Every group made gains: black students gained 18 points, Hispanic students gained 17 points, Asian students gained six points, and white students gained four points.

The reason for this apparent impossibility? Black and Hispanic students, who unfortunately lag behind their white peers, make up a much bigger share of the population now than they did in 1973. That brings down the total score. (Jack Jennings noted this dynamic several years ago.) Yet those who imply that our students are no better served by the K-12 system than they were 40 years ago are ignoring the evidence.

So should we be popping the champagne corks? Hardly. Progress in high school has been much slower than in elementary and middle schools, where student gains have amounted to several grade levels worth of learning. In fact, high schools seem to be undoing some of the gains made by elementary and middle schools.

But gloomy fatalism and blanket indictments of K-12 won’t do us much good. One lesson NAEP teaches us  is that change is possible—we can move the needle when we set our minds to it. We’ve also got to step up our game. Students of color make up a growing share of our school enrollments. If we don’t accelerate the progress we have already made with them, we will pay a very high moral and economic price.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - 15:52

It's Tuesday, so we've got the STEM news you can use. 

Computer Coding Lessons Expanding for K-12 Students, EdWeek, June 12

Coding is one of the most critical 21st-century skills students need to acquire, but most schools don't offer computer science courses. To fill the gaps, several groups are trying new and indirect routes of introducing kids to coding, such as through game design. This piece has a strong round up of new ideas teachers, programs, and administrators are using as jumping-off points for kids.

Data Security is a Classroom Worry, Too, New York Times, June 22 

Technology has incredible transformative power in the classroom, but particularly given how much data usage is in the news, it's important to think about how much of their lives students are putitng online. Take a deep look into the security of online learning tools here. 

Companies back STEM efforts as Maryland seeks to revamp science education, Baltimore Sun, June 23

As Maryland prepare to debate adoption of the Next Gen Science Standards, several businesses -- including CTEq member companies Northrup Grumman and Batelle -- are joining the effort to pass the standards. Maryland has been at the forefront of transforming instruction, and we're happy to see the Next Gen Science Standards being addressed in the state. 

U.S. News Release 2013 Best High Schools for STEM Rankings, U.S. News, June 18

We know that strong STEM starts young, and that dozens of schools around the country are doing amazing work to stimulate growth in STEM. Check out this list of 250 schools that are doing an especially great job, as judged by AP scores. These schools are supporting their scores with strong curriculum and deep practical experiences for students. 


Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 09:18

When you pick up your phone today, send an email, or even drum your fingers on your desk in a dot-dash-dot rhythm, pause for a moment and reflect on the humble beginnings of telecommunications.  First, on this day in 1840, Samuel Morse (he of the Morse code) received his patent for the telegraph, setting the course for trans-Atlantic communications (which, incidentally, didn't happen until 1866). A series of dots and dashes were transmitted as all uppercase letters, with no question mark or lowercase.  (The first Morse code telegram, sent by Morse himself in May 1844, read "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT".)

Then in 1877, Alexander Graham Bell installed the world's first telephone in Canada (kind of makes you wonder who he was calling, no?).  And by 1886, more than 150,000 people in the U.S. owned a telephone (that's a landline for you kiddies).   From these humble beginnings, though, the world would never be the same.  According to Wikipedia, "By the end of 2009, there were a total of nearly 6 billion mobile and fixed-line telephone subscribers worldwide. This included 1.26 billion fixed-line subscribers and 4.6 billion mobile subscribers."

Can you hear me now?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 11:35

Bringing you all the STEM news that's fit to print. 

Questions Arise About the Need for Algebra 2 for all, EdWeek, June 12 

Algebra 2, often considered the gateway to higher-level math, is coming under a great deal of scrutiny, despite the increasing rigor of adopted standards. EdWeek takes a look at why states such as Florida and Texas, which have recently struck it from high-school graduation requirements, are backing away from the rigorous course. We recently took a look at states' graduation requirements, noting tha many are too weak to align to Common Core. And given the opportunities that Algebra 2 provides for both careers and college, we're disappointed in the steps certain states are taking. 

The Faulty Logic of the 'Math Wars', New York Times, June 16

In the last 10 years or so, math pedagogy has shifted it focused from computation to deep numerical understanding, particularly in the younger grades. This editorial hits back at this transition, arguing that the purpose of math instruction should be rigor and discipline so students can confidently and competently execute the most efficient algorithm. For instance, in addition, that would be stacking the numbers and producing a sum. Today, students may get two quantities and be asked to translate them into base-10 before adding, or be asked to use a grouping strategy instead. Proponents of the new pedagogy argue that newer methods allow students to better understand the why along with the how. While the authors argue persuasively how this is not necessarily just the domain of newer teaching methods, one must wonder whether, in today's highly pressurized testing environment, a focus solely on the algorithms might devolve into rote memorization, leaving students ill-equipped to handle higher-level math. 

Remembering Astronaut Sally Ride's Historic Journey, NPR, June 18

Today is the anniversary of Sally Ride's historic space flight. The first woman in space, Sally later became a high-profile advocate for women in STEM and a founding board member of Change the Equation before her death last year. 

Firebrand for Science, and Big Man on Campus, New York Times, June 17

Bill Nye introduced a generation of kids to the wonders of science, and now he's setting out to defend science to that very same generation. Worried about what he considers the politicalization of issues like climate change and the age of the earth, he's going directly to college students to make his case. 


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