Education Reform: A Path Forward

education reform

The America COMPETES Act was passed in 2007, with an emphasis on technology and science, in an effort to promote and create opportunities for educational excellence. A reauthorization of the law was enacted a new reform of the law, dubbed the “Student Success Act”.   The proposed law would ban federal involvement in determining failing schools, eliminate required federal benchmarks for academic achievement, allow federal dollars for disadvantaged or disabled students to follow the pupil sort of like a voucher, and reduce the amount of federal dollars Title I school districts receive.

It is easy to see how many in the education reform crowd would support the idea, as it creates a pathway for students to leave failing schools and pursue their education at a school of their choice. The unintended consequence of such a policy would be a shift where public and charter schools will be competing to enroll students who qualify for those funds as a means of boosting the funds they receive. So while the schools benefit from the revenue that accompanies these students, the pupil does not necessarily receive the education they deserve, rather they end up with the same academic achievement outcomes they are experiencing today.

Not only will such a policy inevitably perpetuate widening of the achievement gap, it also stands to increase the disparity in public schools serving high numbers of economically disadvantaged students. The diminished learning opportunities will further bolster the inequity in urban vs. suburban education systems, and will further accelerate the closure of inner-city public schools, replacing them with charter and federally subsidized private schools.

The bigger concern for many public school advocates is the potential for the proposed Student Success Act to be the precursor for the evisceration of public school systems, in lieu of a further shift towards charter and privately run school systems.  Most public school advocates readily acknowledge that there are good and bad public schools, just as there are good and bad charter, private, and religious schools out there. One thing we know for certain is without Title I Federal funding, public schools serving high percentages of economically disadvantaged students would be greatly harmed by any reduction in the funding they receive. While many have been unsuccessful in their mission of providing equitable learning opportunities for their students, to withdraw funding at this point would only further turn a bad situation worse.

A better approach today would be to maintain Title I Federal funding based on the present formula, while implementing accountability measures that are meaningful and effective. Federal accountability guidelines should focus on improving early childhood education, reduce the emphasis on testing, tie teacher performance pay to innovative practices linked to student success, and create data share appendages to foster identification and sharing of best practices between the public and private educational complex.

Brookings STEM Report

STEM Cell Economy Humor

 

The Brookings STEM Report offers an analysis of the occupational requirements for STEM knowledge.  How does “The Hidden STEM Economy” impact you?

stem_profile_thumb_16x9STEM Jobs

Colleges Evolving In Not Requiring SAT Test Scores For Admission Impact on High School Completion Requirements

Iterating Towards Success-it-should-be-fluid-and-always-evolving

With an increasing number of top ranking universities not requiring incoming students to submit SAT scores, is it plausible that we will see an increase in minority students applying to higher education institutions.

I was a student who worked hard and performed well in class but not on standardized tests.  Applying to an undergraduate university with an open admittance policy ensured that I would attend college. I entered college during a time when standardized tests were a key factor in determining admission, particularly the caliber of university you attended.  A period when it was almost frowned upon if you enrolled at a university that did not require an ACT or SAT Test score for admission.

In the 21st century, with the increase of on-line colleges and popularity among community colleges, it appears that the automatic favor shown towards competitive institutions is decreasing.

These developments have caused many colleges to adjust admission requirements to one or a combination of ACT, AP, IB or SAT subject tests and some have elected to become test-optional institutions altogether.  In doing so, institutions that have historically experienced small enrollments of minority students are starting to experience increases with such groups.  It will be interesting to see if these same institutions later report decreases in graduation rates as a result of these changes.

From my personal experience with achievement at the undergraduate and graduate level, I conclude that a student’s high school grade point average is as good an indicator as any in determining a student’s capacity to perform at the collegiate level.

With colleges changing their standardized test requirements, do you think school systems will phase out their standardized test requirements for high school completion?

CSTEMbreak, Social Network For Teachers and Students is On The Rise

Social-network

In the 21st Century, social networking spaces are permeating work places and learning environments; and we are not simply talking about the popular mainstream social networks like Facebook.  Teachers and students are more likely to seek out platforms that support the establishment of networks that offer the privacy, safeguards, peer-to-peer connections, teacher to student connections, and parental and business community engagement.  Furthermore, social network platforms in education ought to support resource sharing that meets specific instructional needs, conclusions drawn based on my experience with thousands of teachers and students across the globe.

While a lot of teachers and students are on Facebook, similarly useful for keeping in touch with peers and connections is CSTEMbreak.  A social network for teachers and students that engages and supports the sharing of information around STEM learning, research, projects, scholarships, and internships as well as career and workforce opportunities.  In this environment the teachers and students interact while maintaining their perspective roles along the education continuum.

Over the past five years, educators’ use of popular networks like Facebook and Twitter has increased overall, as has their use of platforms like CSTEMbreak.  However, one area of challenge is the inability of school systems to evolve with technology, preventing the use of social networks for education.  As a result, more teachers and students are inhabiting the internet on educational social networks via mobile technology instead of desk or laptop computers at school.  In this way— teachers, students, and other communities continue to experiment and socialize over online networks, enriching their experiences in work places and learning environments.

Really, blame the teachers and the teachers’ unions?

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People are realizing that the “reform movement” dedicated to improving America’s public schools usually begins on the right track, but often gets derailed as evidenced by student outputs. As a result of these outputs, teachers are often left shouldering the blame for underperforming students. Reformists should realize that teachers and teachers’ unions ought not be the sole target of those driving the “reform movement”.

In any given educational system, there exist areas that could use some improvement; however, it does not mean that the entire system is broken.  That said, there is no one solution to fix everything, which is why making correlations between the characteristics of a community, its residents, and performance of the schools is a viable step towards achieving real solutions. The teacher horror stories that evolve from isolated situations make for good sound bytes and headlines, and as reality TV has shown us, drama does sell and captures the public’s attention.  Unfortunately, blaming teachers has become much easier than addressing sociological and economic problems beyond the walls of the schoolyard.

From one Ward or Barrio to the next, the same curriculum standards are required to be taught just as the same standardized tests are administered.  The system lags in exposing students to appropriate grade level content at the appropriate time, and provides no real alternatives to address educating some of the neediest children.  There is a great propensity for students from disenfranchised communities, with low employment and high crime rates, showing up on the first day of school unprepared, and who have fallen behind academically, through no fault of the teachers or the teachers’ union. The inability of the teacher to get such students to perform at grade level, will result in them not passing the standardized test, and the school in turn ends up receiving a negative report card, and the teacher eventually bears the brunt of the blame.

The tendency to cast aspersions on teachers totally misses the mark. Looking at today’s 21st Century STEM curriculum, as compared to the questions asked on standardized tests; it is clear the academic system is missing the mark.  One observation is the standards set for underperforming schools are higher than people realize, and students are being challenged significantly more than when you and I were in grade school. In an era when our schools were regarded as competitive, great places of learning, teachers were afforded the opportunity of being the best they could be without cumbersome testing requirements or classes full of unprepared students from disconnected parents.

Dr. Reagan Flowers named in 100 Women in STEM

Dr. Reagan Flowers named in 100 Women in STEM

June 27, 2012 – In celebration of women role models in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),  STEMconnector™  is ready to unveil the hard copy and online versions of its inaugural 100 Women Leaders in STEM publication. With this publication, STEMconnector’s™ goal is to advance the cause of attracting more girls and women to STEM careers as our country´s economy relies more than ever on a prepared STEM workforce. Major credit is due to these 100+ women leaders who are paving the way for millions of women and girls in the STEM education pathway to STEM careers as we move beyond the 25% of women in STEM fields, according to Edie Fraser, CEO, STEMconnector™.

100 Women Leaders in STEM showcases the careers and initiatives of more than one hundred women leaders who are active role models for the underrepresented segment of women in America’s growing shortage of STEM professionals.  The publication features profiles of leaders in the corporate, government and nonprofit sectors, including CEO´s, Presidents and key public officials, including four US Senators and the EPA / NASA Administrator and Deputy Administrator respectively. (See complete list below).  Also included are Opinion Editorials featuring interesting data and perspectives about women in STEM. Commentary included is from the Society of Women Engineers; Abt Associates / TERC; Center for

Energy Workforce Development; American Association of University Women; Girls, Inc; National Science Foundation; US News and World Report; The American Institute of Architects, Aerospace Industries Association and Bayer USA Foundation.

Featured in 100 Women Leaders in STEM is Dr. Reagan Flowers, Founder and CEO of CSTEM Teacher and Student Support Services™, Inc. She is honored for her pragmatic understanding of effective STEM education reform in classrooms, which has been instrumental in developing curricula that remain focused on teacher development and student engagement in STEM.  “Nationally, ethnic-minorities and females are underrepresented in many STEM industries, which limit their participation in a variety of well-paid, high growth professions. It is through targeted efforts that women leaders are able to take advantage of the rich diversity of perspectives and inspiration that drives the very important work we do as role models and developers of the next generation of STEM leaders,” says Dr. Flowers.

Other women included in 100 Women Leaders in STEM share stories about their commitment to serving as mentors and sponsors of those who are next in the STEM jobs pipeline. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says, “We need you and we need this generation of women to stand up and serve as role models to encourage young women to develop the critical skills needed for the competitive workforce of tomorrow.” Also included are insiders’ perspectives about the traits needed to advance in the STEM professions, and how women in particular can make a difference. As Susan O’Day of Disney reflects, “We need to be more aggressive in showing girls and young women role models and highlighting stories of successful leaders.”

The 100 Women Leaders in STEM launch takes place at the U.S. News STEM Solutions Summit in Dallas, TX on June 27, 28 and 29th. A reception hosted by Deloitte and AGU, will take place at 5:00PM on June 28, 2012. To view the full details of the launch and RSVP, visit STEMconnector.org/100women.  A follow up celebration for the 100 Women Leaders in STEM will be held in Washington, D.C. on October 2, 2012 at 5 PM.

About CSTEM™ – Since the organizations founding in 2002, CSTEM™ (communication, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Teacher and Student Support Services has positively impacted more than 50,000 students grades Pre K-12th and trained more than 500 teachers.  CSTEM™ is research based and designs STEM curricula collaboratively with industry professionals to connect classroom learning to the real world, increasing the STEM talent pool in related careers. CSTEM™ operates in school districts in Maryland, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas and the Dominican Republic.  For additional information, visit www.cstem.org.

The Ethnic-minority Difference

The Ethnic-minority Difference

Large urban school districts across the nation report that they are making progress educating minority students; however, behind the numbers is a stark contrast between the higher performing Hispanic students, and Black students who continue to be left behind.  The reality is the achievement gap is closing at a faster pace for Hispanic students, and the answer might be in the rigorous English as second language (ESL) training Hispanic students receive starting in early education.

It is important that the reporting of academic performance data lumping Black and Hispanic student results together does not continue to disillusion parents, students, and policy makers. The observed results might cause you to think that things are getting better across the board; however, a different picture emerges when you separate the two groups.  Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail, reports that between 2002 and 2011 Black student’s readiness benchmarks rose from 3% to 4% while that of Hispanic students rose from 8% to 11%.  The College Board reports that in 2010, Black students made up 14.6% of high school graduates and 8.6% of AP test takers; contrast that with Hispanic students who made up 17% of the graduates and 16% of AP test takers.

The numbers make it clear that the same improvements are not being equally achieved by both groups. Certain school districts have observed that the progress seen in Hispanic students can be attributed to strong teachers, the likelihood of attending better-funded majority Caucasian schools, the school culture in majority Hispanic schools being based on connections to family, and the heavy emphasis on teachers receiving professional development in teaching English as a second language to cope with this burgeoning population.

These facts suggest increased performance ratings in math and science can be attributed to the language improvements of Hispanic students.  I discovered early on in my research through CSTEM, an authentic approach to integrating STEM into Pre K through 12th  curriculum, that student’s not possessing adequate communication skills (i.e. reading, writing, and speaking) generally lag behind in math and science.  Recent data and my research therefore lead me to the conclusion that the emphasis on ESL for Hispanic students should also be in place for Black students.

There is a great need to get back to the basics with Black students who lag behind in their grasp of the English language, not because it is their second language, but rather because a vast number of Black students communicate at home and with their peers using Slang/Broken English/Ebonics, which ultimately spills over to how they communicate at school and when writing. Oftentimes in communities serving majority Black students, strong grammar and English teachers are not consistent throughout their Pre K through 12th grade education journey.  So once these students begin falling behind, there is very little teacher professional development training that focus on tackling this issue in order to improve the grammar and English language deficiencies of such students.  Furthermore, schools tend to offer remediation to Black students focused more on drills, memorization and practice questions for passing state standardized test, rather than mastery of fundamentals of English and Language Arts.

The academic challenges faced by Black and Hispanic students are clearly different, and if we are not careful when lumping the two groups together, we will continue to miss the true picture behind the data.  Having a clear understanding allows our schools to be better able to pinpoint best practices and offer services that truly aid in reducing the achievement gap for these very distinct groups of students.  It is my belief that a renewed emphasis on the development of grammar and English for Black students will result in producing a greater number of math and science scholars of the future.  The concern is failure to address this issue of grouping all minorities together will only lead to a further widening of the achievement gap, where Black students are the ones who truly get left behind, particularly in areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

2012 Commencement Speech: East Side High School

Class of 2012

When I look out at you, I am looking at me.

As I once sat where you sit today without knowing that this day would come, providing me an opportunity to speak with you on your graduation day.

My mind is flooded with memories of what my day was like when I graduated from East Side High School in 1989 and I sat where you sit today full of emotion and tears because I had worked so hard to cross that finish line.

And I have tried desperately to recall who my commencement speaker was and the speech that was delivered to my class, and I have no recollection, no memory.

So today, I have decided that I would not deliver a speech, that I would deliver a message

Because when I look out at you, I am looking at me.

And, I wonder would I have remembered my class commencement speaker had he or she shared something that I needed to here to addressed what was going on in my mind and my heart when I sat where you sit today.

In my message to you all, I hope to reassure you, inspire you, encourage you, challenge you, and tell you something that you need to hear from someone else to confirm for yourself that you are on the right track.

Some of you are afraid of the unknown. I am here to tell you that your fear is normal.  Don’t let it cripple or hinder you.  You will be okay.  Take the next step

Some of you do not have family to support you through college. Don’t let the lack of money or understanding stop you.  You will figure it out.  You will make it through.

Some of you are in doubt.  Know that within you are the skills and work ethic that is required to move forward towards your destiny. You are ready.

Some of you are worried about being successful.   The journey to reaching your goals will not be easy.  You will fail at some things, but don’t worry; you will rise and continue towards the finish line.

Some of you will be moving to a new city with no friends or family.  Your Faith in God will carry you through.

Some of you wonder if your life has purpose.  It does.  Everything happens in your life for a reason, season, or a lifetime.  You will honor each day and make the most of every opportunity.

Some of you have not decided what is next for you after this glorious day, might I suggest that you make a decision to take charge of your life by either applying to a college, the military, trade school, or for a job, and if you have not registered to vote, do so.

The bottom line in my message to you is to do something meaningful with your life.

I stand before you, having beat the odds. I grew up poor.  From Sunset Village to East Gate. I failed the second grade, I made it to the fifth grade without knowing my multiplication tables, I have been homeless, I finished high school in three years, I am the first to graduate high school and college in my immediate family, I earned my Ph.D., I am the CEO of my own company, I have authored two books, I have a wonderful husband, I have a beautiful church home, I am running for public office, and I have impacted the lives of more than 50,000 children.

I stand before you because I had teachers, who cared, inspired, encouraged, challenged, and held me accountable.

I stand before you as a living example that you can achieve with your life more than you ever dreamed for yourself.

I stand before you as a living example that others will invest in you to help you accomplish your dreams if you demonstrate through your efforts your commitment to achieving your goals in life.

I work on my legacy daily.

Doing nothing is not an option; too many have endured so much to afford us the opportunities we have today.

And so many coming behind you are counting on you in order that they too have a chance at success.

In this world in which we live today, you have no reasons or excuses for not being the best you can be.

I am a living example, as are many others across the globe.

As I bring this message to a close, I want to leave you with the 3 D’s,

Do, Delegate, and Delete…

Do, what is required,

Delegate, what others can do for you,

And Delete, what hinders you from accomplishing your goals,

You are finishing yet one chapter of your life story today, keep writing your story and create your legacy.

Remember the 3 D’s…Do, Delegate, and Delete,

Be the Change you want to see.  Because you can…

Congratulations Class of 2012, Job well done…