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Implementing Change the Equation
All of us can agree that the United States needs to carefully examine our efforts in STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) with an eye towards improving rigor, expanding reach and ensuring that more of our students are both interested and proficient in these subjects. Certainly, from an economic health and employment standpoint, we should all be concerned with raising the bar on STEM standards while nurturing the effectiveness of the professionals who teach these subjects. However, agreeing on the “what” that needs to be done is always easier than agreement on the “how” to get the job done.
This reality was made obvious at the first policy briefing held by the new nonprofit Change the Equation at the Press Club last week. Change the Equation, a national coalition of more than 110 corporate CEO’s committed to improving STEM learning for every child, with a particular focus on girls and students of color, released its first set of data, “STEM Vital Signs” for every state that compared achievement test scores for state based standards in math and science and with NAEP scores in the same subject. In all cases, the NAEP scores were lower and both sets of scores were not promising, i.e. in Colorado 45% of 4th grade students scored proficient in math on NAEP; 70% scored proficient on the state test. These data sets for all states and the subsequent recommendations are useful as a starting point for identifying the problem; sadly, the panel conversation that accompanied the release of these vital signs was less than helpful, and potentially damaging to subsequent efforts to bring a variety of stakeholders and education professionals to the table to work on solutions.
Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel Corporation and chairman of the board of Change the Equation, stated that he was tired of rhetoric and the lack of any improvement in public schooling since the report issued in the 1950’s that stated the US was losing the space race because science and math were not being adequately taught in our schools. I believe his nearly exact quote was, “In 53 years not a **** thing has happened” and that the entrenched education establishment was the chief cause of education stalemate. He wasn’t alone in his charged rhetoric; a fellow panelist, Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, added to the vitriol by stating that poor teaching was the result of the “monopoly of schools of education” in preparing teachers and that monopoly must be broken. She advocates attracting math and science majors to the profession without making them jump through the “hoops of certification.” Mike Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, did suggest in his remarks that he is hopeful Change the Equation will bring educational stakeholders into the conversation and advocated for common core standards in science.
Barrett and Tisch raise important issues in their charged statements; however, the presumption of causality does nothing to solve the problems. If teacher certification standards are just “hoops” to jump through, perhaps the states that adopt those certification requirements, should rethink, modify, or abolish certification altogether. Blaming the institutions that adhere to certification standards fails to recognize the systemic policies that work against change and improvement. The same can be said of blaming the “entrenched establishment” in public K-12 education. Public school districts in the US are locally owned and controlled, so every community and its members are responsible for the health and welfare of the districts and the students they serve. Many local school districts perform well; too many don’t. The first step towards real system improvement that will include rigorous standards and strong instruction in math and science will be realized when all interested parties (and that’s all of us) approach the important challenges we all face with mutual respect and openness to learning from each other. As Mr. Barrett asserted in his remarks, he’s not an education expert. Most career educators are just as anxious as Mr. Barrett and Ms. Tisch to improve science and math instruction for all students and enhance the working conditions in public schools to the point that math and science majors are eager to work in those schools. Approaching those educators with an attitude toward learning the real challenges they face daily will go a long way to achieving the results we all strive for.