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).

NCLB Ten Un-Intended Years

No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the highly publicized education reform effort championed by the George Bush administration, has not been synonymous with school improvement.  The involvement of the federal government in education at the state and local levels has not translated to improved student and teacher performance, rather NCLB put into place rigid guidelines that were not equitably funded across all schools.

While teacher’s work toward meeting unrealistic federally mandated school performance ratings, creativity and innovation have continued to leave the classroom.  Federal test mandates are so onerous in their implementation at the school level that the focus has shifted from education innovation to test prep for an exam that no college or university recognize as part of the admissions requirement.  The inability of the federal government to manage K-12 education is further proven in the tens of thousands of “failing” public schools, labeled as such because they are not measuring up with standardized test scores; this problem is particularly high in predominantly minority serving schools.

Over the last decade, each state as mandated by the federal government has held schools accountable to assessments that were never required to align with or link to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP); the NAEP exam is the standard most often referred to when comparing how we fare academically as a nation.  Furthermore, though certain interpretation of statistical performance data suggest that our students are performing well; however, the drop-out rate continues to rise, direct admissions into a four year college/university is on the decline, and minority students continue to perform at levels below their White and Asian counterparts.

What we need is an accountability system that is connected to measures that indicate college readiness, such as the SAT/ACT.  Many of the standardized tests put into place as a result of NCLB have only been sufficient for meeting minimal high school graduation standards, but not college or STEM workforce ready standards for many students graduating high school.  This has resulted in schools graduating an increasing number of students lacking basic analytical and problem-solving skills.

What all this has taught us is that for federal education policies to be successful, it must be supported by research led by essential questions aimed at determining how to drive student achievement and teacher performance.  Policies that are implemented then have to be accompanied with the proper framework and financial resources required to deliver effective programming and desired outcomes.  This represents the type of education reform schools, across the country, can rally behind, as it would be aligned with the specific needs of the school community, as opposed to forcing a one-size-fits-all approach to getting all students college and career ready upon graduation from high school.   Without taking these critical measures, the federal government might one day face the realization that it is too far removed from where the work is getting done at the school level, and that implementing such sweeping mandates is a task much too difficult to manage from the top down.

Keeping Art Alive using Mathematics

        Art education is important in the development of creativity within children and serves as an outlet for student expression.  When school budgets are cut, art programs are traditionally the first to be eliminated.  All of the talk about STEM has over shadowed the decline of art education programs in P-12 schools.  We believe the integration of art into STEM education is a viable solution.

           Many of our schools face challenges in creating and sustaining quality learning experiences for all children.  The key to getting it right is for schools to be flexible, open to collaborative partnerships, and having a willingness to re-invent themselves.  Simply said, there is no one-size-fit all solution; the development of the right brain is just as important as the development of the left brain.

          In 2007, Reginald Adams, the founder of MOCAH (Museum of Cultural Arts Houston), introduced CSTEM to, “Sacred Geometry – the geometric natural patterns, designs and structures in all forms of life.” Mr. Adams then introduced our organization to Bob Powell, who facilitated a series of math sessions with me and Steve Gomez, a robotics engineer and volunteer from Schlumberger.  During these math sessions he shared with us the techniques he used to assist the world renowned artist, the late Dr. John Biggers’, with understanding the mathematics behind his artistry.   The result of our “Sacred Geometry” sessions led to the development of math lessons that we currently use to teach students how to develop and use geometric shapes to create art masterpieces.

               Integrating art into our curriculum has enabled us to provide thousands of students with little exposure to art education the opportunity to explore, discover, and express themselves creatively.  We use painting and sculpting to help students understand math and science. As a result, we have observed students develop a love for math and science through their art experiences.

           The CSTEM motto, “Everyone is an Artist and an Engineer,” is an attitude and skill that I believe everyone has and applies to some aspect of daily life, work, or a hobby.  The principles used in art and engineering allow people to apply knowledge towards creative problem-solving.  Through STEM education, CSTEM is keeping art alive in our P-12 schools.  It is important that we restore the educational balance for our children.  CSTEM + Art = Future Innovations.

Why Disparities Continue with No Child Left Behind

The “No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act” of 2001 was created to implement standardized tests to measure student success and teacher performance (accountability). Ten years later, the education system is still experiencing educational disparities due to the lack of well-prepared and qualified teachers in critical areas such as math, science and literacy. American students will continue to lack skills to compete in a global market regardless of demographic and racial backgrounds without the proper resources mentioned.

Why Disparities Continue with NCLB:

The provisions of NCLB did not promote innovation or high expectations nor did it encourage the development of 21st century skills in public schools.  NCLB has further created a national obsession with standardized tests that do not measure depth, application, nor provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned. Education acts, such as NCLB, that lack adequate funding to all states and school districts and shared responsibility of parents, communities, educators, and policymakers,  do not provide all children an opportunity for a great public school education.  The pitfall of NCLB is that it was neither specifically designed to close the achievement gap nor increase student achievement. Rather, it simply set an achievement benchmark and passed it on as a federal mandate for all public schools to achieve.

NCLB Overlooked Significant Factors to Creating Effective Educational Programs:

To ensure that educational programs are effective in increasing student achievement, educational leaders must be held accountable to create programs guided by a concise understanding of the school community and socio-cultural dynamics; particularly, within schools serving greater numbers of low income and minority populations. Program administrators and developers of educational offerings should create procedures that ensure programs are implemented as they are designed, with built-in accommodations to support and supplement broken and absent systems.  Leaders in education should understand that what works in one community will not necessarily work in another and there is no one size fits all solution to creating effective educational programs.  The reality is that successful education programs accommodate systemic needs of the school community, for example:

Scenario 1

To create effective educational programs that focus on the development of teacher content knowledge, teacher training should be accompanied with supporting workshops, adequate in-class tools and resources, instructional observations, and product evaluation (i.e. student-created product(s), presentation(s), and exams.)  The aforementioned holistic approach allows educators to truly gauge area(s) where children are gifted to help students visualize academic success, and holds teachers accountable for results-oriented implementation at an acceptable level.  The end result being, the educational program is more likely to be effective in closing the achievement gap and increasing student achievement.

 

Scenario 2

Creating effective educational programs becomes more challenging in schools serving high percentages of low-income students as they usually do not have the financial support of a PTO/PTA or community businesses.  Ensuring program implementation is effective requires integrating fund-raising activities and mentors. This extra step accounts for the inadequate social-emotional and economic support at home or the lack of exposure to opportunities beyond their immediate environment.

Necessary Changes:

The nation continues to respond to the education crisis by amending previous federal mandates, such as the reauthorization of NCLB to the America Competes Act, to meet our current education needs.  With every revision, government and federally aligned organizations continue to implement the same systems within the same structures.  Appointed officials and organization leaders, who failed the first time, are given an opportunity to re-invent themselves; yet, they choose to continue to work within the same structure.  As a result, we continue to get more of the same; an ever-widening achievement gap, disparities in education, and the potential of a lost generation of children unable to compete academically on a global stage. The government structures and federally funded organizations created to carry out education agendas, in large part, are not designed to engage at the school level or with grassroots organizations that have a pulse on what yields proven results in addressing the needs of their school and community. For a moment, just consider the numerous effective programs we have watched go unfunded and under supported while new programs are adopted, yet prove ineffective once they have run their course.  It causes you to wonder, are we really committed to delivering a quality education to all children or are we simply searching for the next new thing?

How to Create Educational Effectiveness:

Educational effectiveness begins with good leadership at the school level with administrators and teachers. For teachers to be effective and innovative in their profession, they need the support of principals to create a school culture that provides an instructional balance between implementing federal education mandates and state-approved curriculum. Achieving success in the classroom requires adequate teacher training using proven professional development models coupled with the right resources; this translates into practical learning exercises that foster depth, rigor, and relevance, contributing to the overall success of students.  Other areas that support creating educational effectiveness include opening lines of communication at all levels, testing, teacher mentoring models, budgeting priorities, alignment of student achievement initiatives, policy makers, and with teacher accountability systems.  Lastly, for this to have its desired effects, we must shift the focus to the students and how we best educate them, based on how they learn.  We must customize the educational experience to the needs of the children, and that approach must include hands-on and project-based learning.