STEM: Are we really Making Progress
Written by: Reagan Flowers, PhD
There were so many great take-a-ways from the Women’s Global Leadership Conference (WGLC) in Energy. The Theme, “Inspiring the Next Generation of Female Leaders”, was well received. It is hard to imagine how anyone could have left not feeling inspired, encouraged, energized, more knowledgeable, and dreaming bigger.
Leading in male dominated industries can be challenging. It was refreshing to hear from women who are figuring it out and paving the way in STEM industries.
When we look at were we are currently with Women in STEM, data shows that we must begin in elementary school with getting girls interested in science. The gender gap widens in middle and high school, 3% to an 11% gap with boys demonstrating more interest than girls.
Some recommended best practices with getting girls more interested in STEM disciplines/careers includes:
- Providing opportunities for girls to experience STEM as early as Pre Kindergarten to start building their confidence and to allow them to be wowed by what they can do and see the impact of applying what they know to something meaningful.
- Use of inspiring messages and images that are not demeaning and don’t exacerbate gender biases or imbalances.
To continue to move the needle forward we have to do some things differently. A great place to start is with ones self. There is tremendous room for more individuals to take ownership by making a commitment to excellence to write a future for girls leading in STEM. The call to action is to create, collaborate, and support opportunities that provide access to relevant high quality STEM learning experiences.
We are somewhat bridging the diversity and workforce readiness gap that exists in STEM fields of study and industries. It seems K-12 schools need additional support with bridging the information and knowledge gap that continues to persist, particularly with minorities and females.
Hurricane Harvey has caused a widespread educational crisis for many Texas school districts. For instance, Houston Independent School District (HISD) has 12 schools that were drastically damaged and in Sheldon Independent School District all schools were impacted. It will take the entire school year to rehabilitate those facilities. Disaster preparedness does go a long way in reducing the impact of natural disasters on education. However, Houston schools could not have prepared for a 500-year flood event. The city and surrounding areas received 64 inches of rain, which is the largest amount of rain for any U.S. storm on record.
Harvey’s devastation extended summer break for numerous schools and the Commissioner of Education for Texas, Mike Morath, has authorized missed school day waivers for school districts and charters. While the ripple effects of Harvey continue to unfold, the reopening of all schools and creating a sense of normalcy for children is a primary priority for school leaders.
Unfortunately, learning losses during the summer months are compounded as a result of natural disasters that strike at the start of the school year, particularly for children in Texas and Florida. Many school districts have decided that the days missed by students need to be made-up and have extended the instructional day as opposed to extending the school year. Districts have also had to rethink the conventional school design by temporarily moving schools while repairing damages. Schools have also merged, class sizes have doubled, school climate has changed, and students remain resilient.
Those impacted by this hurricane season have been forced to take a hard look at their disaster readiness gap, which has further widened the educational learning gap in their schools. Many school systems face challenges with upholding high standards of learning and providing equitable learning opportunities for underserved and underrepresented students. With the full implementation of the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) and the submission of state plans, one would hope that there are provisions for added support to schools where present day education inequities have been made worse because of natural disasters.
Common Core vs. State Standards: What’s the Difference?
By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
Education must be governed by standards to achieve the learning goals that all parents seek for their children, said Dr. Reagan Flowers, a noted trailblazer in the field of STEM and the founder and CEO of Houston, Texas-based C-STEM Teacher and Student Support Services. C-STEM supports the engagement of pre-kindergarten to 12th grade students in hands-on, project-based learning experiences that expose them to workforce opportunities in related areas of Communication, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
“Through the history of public education, academic standards have evolved and have been governed by many [laws]. In our current reality, there are 44 states that have adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS), 40 states with expressed interest in adopting the New Generation Science Standards, and six states including Texas following their own standards,” Flowers said.
In comparing “Common Core” to “State Standards,” there are some who might say there is no difference, she continued. Others point out that requirements are similar, but the wording of the guidelines is different.
“I would say that ‘Reading’ is ‘Reading,’ ‘Math’ is ‘Math,’ and ‘Science’ is ‘Science.’ [Common Core and State Standards] emphasize college and career readiness and there is overlap,” Flowers said.
As states struggle to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), an ongoing and underlining debate pits Common Core standards versus State Standards, particularly as states are given the lion’s share of authority under ESSA.
“I see very little difference between Common Core and State Standards outside of 44 states speaking a common language about learning. In using Texas as an example, the difference between the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and Common Core Math Standards is that TEKS requires students to learn personal finance,” Flowers said.
Flowers said that ESSA can’t be compared to Common Core standards or State Standards.
“ESSA is an act designed to enforce the adopted standards, whether they are ‘Common Core’ or ‘State Standards,’” she said, noting that in practical terms it makes more sense to compare ESSA to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and, “from where I am sitting, there appears to be a big difference,” between ESSA and NCLB.
Flowers continued: “I see the biggest difference between ESSA and NCLB resting with the allowances and flexibility provided to states and schools with selecting student learning interventions and not being mandated to implement something that does not work with their student population. There is no one-size-fit-all answer to public education and that is what NCLB enforced and we can all see where that has landed us.”
States that have not adopted CCSS include Texas, Missouri, Nebraska, Virginia, Indiana and Kansas.
The Constitution has made it clear that states have control over their school systems, so Common Core standards aren’t federally mandated and each state does enjoy the option to adopt CCSS, standards that are indicators of college and career readiness that provide teachers, curriculum developers, and states significant flexibility.
Further, Common Core standards are research-based and internationally benchmarked, said Michelle Krumholz, the CEO of Evolved Educator, which develops easy-to-use software solutions to help teachers design and implement course instruction; according to Evolved Educator, this specialized course instruction drives sustainable growth in student achievement.
The greatest impact of ESSA concerning Common Core is that the federal government can no longer make a state’s adoption or maintenance of standards a funding incentive as NCLB and Race to the Top mandated, Krumholz said.
“In fact, the new law prohibits the federal government from encouraging the adoption of any particular set of standards—including Common Core,” said Krumholz. “The only requirements regarding standards existing now are that they have to be challenging—which states are left to interpret what is challenging, connected to college and career readiness, and that the assessment tool such as standardized tests, chosen by the state for accountability aligns with the selected state standards.”
In short, states have a lot of flexibility when it comes to implementing education standards, Krumholz said.
The Atlanta-based Skubes spends a lot of time analyzing the state standards for every state and the company has had plenty of experience with Common Core, said Bryan Wetzel, the COO of Skubes, which creates educational videos, quizzes and other resources for K-12 students and teachers.
“One of the little-known facts, and a deceptive fact at that, is that most states didn’t change from Common Core standards, they only erased the name Common Core from the title,” Wetzel said. “In many states, where politicians ran for office on getting rid of Common Core standards, they only changed the name and some of the nomenclature.”
One curriculum supervisor estimated that maybe three percent of the state standards have been rewritten or have been changed from Common Core, he said.
“ESSA is not a curriculum standard as much as it is rule for how federal money is spent and how it can be used,” said Wetzel. “It places more emphasis on research based solutions and/or tested interventions.”
Tune-in, Listen Now!
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.
Over the weekend, I found myself engaging in several conversations regarding the unfortunate loss of life. It was extremely sad news to hear that a child lost his life as a result of playing with an airsoft-type pellet gun by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio. There were many errors at play that led to this unfortunate incident. The obvious is poor communication. The “C” in C-STEM. Poor communication on part of the pellet gun manufacturer, 911 dispatcher, police officer, and parents of the 12 year old boy.
It is seemingly unreasonable to not hold manufacturers of pellet guns that look like real guns accountable for the lives that are unknowingly placed in danger. A news channel covering the story has shared that the type of pellet gun the child had in his possession generally has an orange tip at the end of the barrel indicating that it is not a real gun. I would have to argue that such a minimal indicator is not good enough. Why not an orange safety tip and orange handle? Why not regulate so that pellet guns cannot be manufactured in black or chrome?
The news reported that the orange indicator was not present on the pellet gun and according to experts made it look no different than a real gun. There must be some sort of liability on part of the manufactures designing, building, and selling pellet guns in stores for children. Many of us have purchased toys that have hazardous warning labels on them. I am curious to know if there was a hazardous label on the pellet gun that provided a warning regarding the dangers of removing the orange tip as it could easily be mistaken as a real gun by law enforcement; pointing or aiming the pellet gun at another person or living thing may alarm people around you and place your life at risk; and/or carrying the pellet gun as a weapon may cause someone to feel threatened.
Many of our public servants work hard at developing policy to regulate gun control with NRA. I think it is time for our public servants to work just as hard to regulate pellet gun control with manufacturers. There is an organization called “Mothers Against Drunk Drivers,” and I think this is a fine time to start “Mothers Against Pellet Gun Manufacturers”. It is time that the manufacturers effectively communicate the proper message with the use of pellet guns and design them such that there is no question that it is not a real gun.
I cannot stress the importance of developing the communication skills of children. Because if we fail to do so, they grow-up to be adults that lack effective communication skills. As part of this unfortunate situation, there was a dispatcher that failed to effectively communicate the alleged situation to the officer as it was reported by the 911 phone caller. The individual that made the 911 call obviously wanted the police to know that there was a possibility that the gun could be a fake. However, the dispatcher failed to convey that information to the police officer which heightened the severity of the situation. The dispatcher did not ask any clarifying questions of the 911 phone caller as to why it was believed that the gun could possibly be a fake or if the child was pointing the gun directly at people or if there were other people in the area that were obviously at risk. In the police officers response, it seemed completely evident from viewing the video that the officer did not communicate effectively with the child to gain control of what was perceived to be a threatening situation by the officer. Not to mentioned that the officer perceived a 12 year old boy to be a 20 year old man. As it relates to the parent(s) that purchased the pellet gun for the child, I am curious as to how they communicated with the child the proper way and place to use the pellet gun. As it relates to the school the child attended, I wonder what type of social emotional and character building activities/courses/programs/learning was offered to instill the level of discernment, character, thoughtfulness, and consideration that was needed to help him regulate his behaviors, be conscious of his environment, and aware of how people might perceive his actions.
In closing, I sincerely believe that it takes A Village to raise a child, I am equally curious as to what prevented the person who made the 911 phone call from making an attempt to speak with the boy about his public actions and handling of the gun, after all the 911 caller did not sound frightened, panicked, and even indicated that the gun was probably fake. Further, what prevented the caller from sizing up the situation and exploring options to intervene? I am not saying that anyone should put their life in danger, I am just wondering if the 911 caller ever considered becoming The Village for the child. It is obvious that he needed one.
Engineers are in high demand throughout the world. From biomedical engineers to nuclear engineers. These careers require innovative creative thinkers to solve problems that we have throughout the world. They require higher levels of knowledge in math and science. We need to motivate our students to seek careers that are in high demand by encouraging them early on and doing so as they matriculate through the Pre K-12th grade trajectory to higher education. Their experiences in school need to be relevant, fun, innovative, balanced, exploratory, and interactive. Mostly, they must understand the importance of what they learn and how the information they have can be applied in the world. Children are naturally curious, so why not provide them the tools they need to expound on their natural curiosity. Everything starts from a single idea that you build on with intended outcomes. In many cases, a single idea yields dividends that would not have otherwise availed themselves, had you not taken action. Children are our future and they depend on us to prepare them to answer questions of the unknown and unforeseeable future.
I recently received an email that caused me to look at the education system from a different perspective. As a country we are failing to give our students the education that they need and deserve to stay competitive in the world.
There are three main expectations that the military has for someone to join. To be educated, physically fit, and have no criminal history. The first is one of the biggest reasons as to why people are unable to serve in the military. One out of four Americans do not have a high school diploma and even with a high school diploma some still lack the academic skills needed to join the military. The solution is for students to start receiving quality education as early as possible. They must be empowered with good information and have access to opportunities that provides them with competitive skills. Prekindergarten is a very important place to begin strengthening children’s cognitive skills. Studies show that students that start with a quality Pre K education have higher rates of high school graduation and lower rates of crime. I understand that children need hands on experiences early on in their education to engage them and keep them on track. C-STEM provides programs and activities that are hands-on, require critical thinking, problem-solving, and application of knowledge and skills as early as Pre K. We need to focus on what is best for our children as early as possible to prepare them to successfully navigate the maze of life’s journey. To be quite honest, we cannot start to early with educating our children, which means neonatal education is the best place to begin with ensuring that a child’s future is bright and full of promise.
Recent reports from a study published by JAMA Pediatrics show that the number of children in the United States living in poverty is at its highest in 20 years. The amount of federal money spent on children has declined since 2010 by billions of dollars. Children should not have to live in poverty in America. It becomes a chain reaction when children live in poverty. With 1 in 4 kids not having enough access to food, the resulting outcome lends itself to health problems because they either go hungry or the food they consume is unhealthy. Taking it even further, these kids have lower test scores and lower desires for education, which should be the focus of all children. It is impossible for a kid to focus on learning when they are hungry and in some cases starving. Heck, I cannot focus on learning when I am hungry. The startling data published by JAMA clearly brings this issue to the forefront detailing why something must be done to eradicate hunger to make our future even brighter as we would not be leaving kids behind educationally as a result of hunger. It is estimated that 20 percent of American children don’t have adequate access to healthy food. Resulting in their emotional, physical, and intellectual development becoming at risk. This puts more of America’s children at a disadvantage. Let’s do our part and not let a single child go hungry, let’s feed their minds and bodies—let’s prepare them for a future they have not dreamed for themselves.