STEM Education News
June 21, 2012
In This Issue:
- Scheduling Note
- President to Honor 97 Math and Science Teachers Next Week
- Immigration Reform Key to US Economic Growth and Bolstering STEM Workforce, New Study Says
- Innovative Science Assessment Reveals Students Struggle to Explain Scientific Results
- New Analysis Estimates Costs of Implementing New Standards
- Member in the Spotlight: South Carolina Coalition for Science & Mathematics to Hold Summer Summit, Seeking Feedback on STEM Education Survey
President to Honor 97 Math and Science Teachers Next Week
On June 11, 2012, the White House announced the winners of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). Recognition ceremonies for the 2011 Presidential Awardees will be held June 27 – 29, 2012 in Washington, DC.
PAEMST is the highest honor bestowed to outstanding K-12 science and mathematics teachers. Winners are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators following an initial selection process done at the state level. Each year the award alternates between teachers teaching kindergarten through 6th grade and those teaching 7th through 12th grades. This year, PAEMST recognizes 97 secondary teachers of science and mathematics from across the country.
Winners of this Presidential honor receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation to be used at their discretion. They also are invited Washington, DC, for an awards ceremony and several days of educational and celebratory events, including visits with members of Congress and the Administration.
President Obama has committed to strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and prepare 100,000 effective science and mathematics teachers over the next decade. These commitments build on the President’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign, which has attracted more than $700 million in donations and inkind support from corporations, philanthropies, service organizations, and others to help bolster science and technology education in the classroom.
“America’s success in the 21st century depends on our ability to educate our children, give our workers the skills they need, and embrace technological change. That starts with the men and women in front of our classrooms. These teachers are the best of the best, and they stand as excellent examples of the kind of leadership we need in order to train the next generation of innovators and help this country get ahead,” said President Obama.
The list of recipients of the 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is available here. The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources administers PAEMST on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Immigration Reform Key to US Economic Growth and Bolstering STEM Workforce, New Study Says
In the United States, a significant gap exists between the number of graduates earning degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and the increasing demand for educated workers to fill current and future jobs in these fields. With many of the students who are studying STEM fields in America being born elsewhere, the U.S. risks losing talented students when they graduate due to stringent immigration laws.
A new study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and Partnership for New York City compared ways that foreign countries are shaping immigration policies to boost their economies by attracting highly skilled workers in STEM fields. The report, “Not Coming to America: Why the US is Falling Behind in the Global Race for Talent,” recommends reforms for U.S. immigration policy that are necessary to boost the nation’s economy by attracting and retaining talented STEM graduates. Currently, the U.S. faces a projected shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree STEM workers by 2018.
The report identifies three major risks facing the U.S. economy if it does not reform its immigration laws: a shortage of workers in innovation industries, shortage of young workers, and slow rates of business startup and job creation. As jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) increase three times faster than other jobs, there are not enough American students entering these fields. The U.S. also faces a shortage of workers as baby boomers retire en masse, and growth in the labor force slows to historic lows of less than one percent. Finally, while new businesses are the biggest driver of job creation, the most recent U.S. Census data shows that business startups have reached a record low.
While other countries in this study, Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Singapore and the United Kingdom, have adopted policies to attract immigrants necessary to drive economic growth, the basic policy framework governing immigration in America has remained unchanged for nearly fifty years. The report emphasizes that the U.S. can no longer afford to take a back seat in the race for the workers it needs with an antiquated immigration policy. The report concludes by recommending six immigration reforms the U.S. can adopt to resume its position as the magnet for the world’s most talented and necessary workers:
- Provide visas to the STEM graduates educated in American universities.
- Award more green cards based on economic needs.
- Create a visa program for foreign entrepreneurs to build their firms in the US
- Let American companies hire the highly educated workers they need.
- Give industries that depend on workers just starting up the economic ladder, such as agriculture and tourism, access to foreign workers when they cannot find Americans to fill jobs.
- Allow local governments to recruit more immigrants to meet regional needs.
Policy makers have considered numerous bills that would work to solve this issue and align immigration laws with many of these recommendations. The SMART Jobs Act (S. 3192), introduced in May 2012 by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Chris Coons (D-DE), would create a new student-visa category for graduate students pursuing STEM degrees and allow them to legally reside in the country for one year following graduation with the possibility of becoming a “legal permanent resident” once they are employed. To learn more about this bill, read Triangle Coalition’s recent Legislative Update.
The full report, “Not Coming to America: Why the US is Falling Behind in the Global Race for Talent,” can be found at www.renewoureconomy.org/not-coming.
Innovative Science Assessment Reveals Students Struggle to Explain Scientific Results
For the first time, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Science Assessment measured how well students apply their understanding of science in real-life contexts. The results of the 2009 Science Assessment were released this week in the Nation’s Report Card Science in Action: Hands-On and Interactive Computer Tasks. The report revealed that America’s fourth, eighth, and 12th graders can conduct science investigations using limited data sets, but many students lack the ability to explain results. The report shows that students were challenged by parts of investigations requiring more variables to manipulate, strategic decision-making in collecting data, and the explanation of why a certain result was the correct conclusion.
The new interactive computer tasks and updated hands-on tasks that involve more open-ended scenarios were administered as part of the 2009 science assessment by the National Center for Education Statistics. The findings provide important insights for educators and policymakers who are looking for academic approaches that support careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, and encourage scientific inquiry.
“Science is fundamental to education because it is through scientific inquiry that students understand how to solve problems and ultimately how to learn,” said David Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP. “So it’s tragic that our students are only grasping the basics and not doing the higher-level analysis and providing written explanations needed to succeed in higher education and compete in a global economy.”
The purpose of using hands-on and interactive computer tasks in testing is to determine whether students can solve problems as a scientist would and require students to perform actual science experiments. Interactive computer tasks require students to solve scientific problems in a computer-based environment, often by simulating a natural or laboratory setting.
“This innovative format allows for a richer analysis than a paper-and-pencil test,” Driscoll said. “Interactive computer tasks allow us to more deeply examine students’ abilities to solve problems because the tasks generate much more data.”
Only 53 percent of 12th graders reported that they were enrolled in a science course, and only 28 percent reported writing a report on a science project at least once a week. Ninety-two percent of fourth graders and 98 percent of eighth graders had teachers who reported doing hands-on science activities with students at least monthly. Thirty-nine percent of fourth graders and 57 percent of eighth graders had teachers who reported having at least a moderate emphasis on developing scientific writing skills.
The assessment measures science skills in a number of ways. Some questions use a model known as “predict-observe-explain” to examine students’ ability to combine their science knowledge with real-world investigative skills.
To correctly predict, students had to provide an accurate description of what might happen in a situation. For instance, when asked what kind of sunlight conditions were needed for a sun-loving plant and a shade-tolerant plant, 59 percent of fourth graders showed understanding that different plants have different sunlight needs.
Through the observe phase, students watched what happened as they conducted their experiments. Eighty percent of fourth graders made straightforward observations and tested how fertilizer and sunlight affected plant growth, but only 35 percent could perform a higher-level task that required them to make decisions about the best fertilizer levels for a sun-loving plant.
Students were then asked to explain what they had observed by interpreting data or drawing conclusions. Across all grade levels, a majority of students could observe, but far fewer could predict or explain. In fourth grade, fewer than 50 percent of students could explain why they selected a given fertilizer amount to support plant growth and use evidence to support their answer. At grade 8, 88 percent of students could correctly identify which liquid flowed at the same rate as water at a given temperature, while only 54 percent could support this answer with a written explanation of the evidence.
At twelfth grade, 64 percent of students could recommend the site for a new town based on information provided about water quality, while 75 percent of students could perform a straightforward investigation to test the water samples and accurately tabulate data. But only 11 percent were able to provide a valid recommendation and support their conclusions with details from the data.
Science in Action: Hands-On and Interactive Computer Tasks from the 2009 Science Assessment is available at www.nationsreportcard.gov. Visit www.nagb.org/science/hots-icts/for more information and materials on recent results. Dive deeper into the tasks by visiting the NAEP interactive website at http://nationsreportcard.gov/science_2009/
New Analysis Estimates Costs of Implementing New Standards
The total cost of implementing new common standards in math and English Language Arts will range from $3 billion to $12 billion, depending on how states approach that challenge over the next several years, according to a report released on May 30 by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost? estimates the implementation cost for each of the forty-five states (and the District of Columbia) that have adopted the Common Core State Standards. Since states and districts are already spending money on related items like textbooks and professional development, the report explains, new costs could range from less than zero to about $8 billion, with a “balanced” approach costing less than $2 billion in the aggregate.
Authors Patrick J. Murphy of the University of San Francisco and Elliot Regenstein of EducationCounsel LLC show that costs naturally depend on how states approach implementation, and illustrate this with three models:
- • Business as Usual. This “traditional” (and priciest) approach to standards implementation involves buying hard-copy textbooks, administering annual student assessments on paper, and delivering in-person professional development to all teachers.
- • Bare Bones. This lowest-cost alternative employs open-source instructional materials, annual computer-administered assessments, and online professional development via webinars and modules.
- • Balanced Implementation. This is a blend of approaches, some of them apt to be effective as well as relatively cost-efficient.
The report examines the tradeoffs associated with each strategy and estimates how much the three approaches would cost each state that has adopted the Common Core. The authors point out that, since states already invest billions annually in professional development, assessments, textbooks, and other expenses in connection with existing standards, proper forecasting of Common Core costs should “net out” the sums that states would spend anyway for activities that this implementation process will replace.
As an example, if Florida sticks to business as usual, it could spend $780 million implementing the Common Core. Under the bare bones approach, the tab could be as little as $183 million. A blended approach of the two could amount to about $318 million.
“Spending reasonable sums to ensure that America’s schools and students successfully attain high standards is a worthy investment,” said Fordham Institute President Chester E. Finn, Jr. “That doesn’t mean implementing the Common Core will break the bank—assuming states and districts are flexible and forward-thinking about how they spend.”
Member in the Spotlight:
South Carolina Coalition for Science & Mathematics to Hold Summer Summit, Seeking Feedback on STEM Education Survey
Triangle Coalition member, the South Carolina Coalition for Science & Mathematics, and S2TEM Centers SC are presenting a dynamic summer summit on STEM Education. South Carolina’s Summit on STEM Education 2012 is taking place in Lexington, SC on August 7. This event will bring together 300 thought and action leaders from across South Carolina and beyond who will help shape the next steps toward developing and implementing a state STEM education agenda. Speakers will include Torrence Robinson, Senior Director of Community Affairs & the Fluor Foundation, and moderator Anita Zucker, CEO of The InterTech Group. To register or learn more about the summit, visit http://scstemsummit2012.eventbrite.com.
The South Carolina Coalition for Science & Mathematics is seeking your thoughts about STEM education. Whether you plan to attend this dynamic event or not, please complete the pre-summit survey: www.surveymonkey.com/s/SCSTEMSummit12.