STEMbeats Blog

Eyes on Indiana: Turning Data Into Action

April 13, 2017

Last month, the Indiana Senate passed a bill to bridge the gap between school curriculum and workforce demands. Their data-based solution hopes to fill one million jobs over the next 10 years--with an emphasis on high-paying STEM jobs that don't require a 2-year or 4-year degree.

According to our Vital Signs data, STEM jobs in Indiana will grow 17 percent from 2014-2024, compared with 11 percent for non-STEM jobs. Although many Indiana students seem to aspire to 4-year degrees, only 28 percent of the state's degrees and certificates are awarded in STEM fields. Our data as well as data from the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) certainly make the case for a state-wide focus on STEM skills. And it seems like state leaders have answered the call.

Indiana takes data-based innovation to new heights with the creation of the Indiana Career Explorer. This digital program gives students an aptitude test that identifies strengths and uses that as a basis for exploring an entire career pipeline from coursework to credentials. For example, an assessment might determine that a student would excel in manufacturing.

“Then the student would next begin to assess what particular area of manufacturing they might like or be best suited for," said Senator Doug Eckerty to The Star Press. "So let's just say that would be a [computer numerically controlled] machine operator. Then the student would be presented with all of the education requirements to become a CNC operator. Do they need certificates? If so, how many? Do they need an industry-certified credential? Do they need an associate degree or a four-year degree?”

“They would also be presented with information as to where they could obtain the certificates, credentials, or degrees and what exactly each would cost,” Eckerty continued. “Then they would be able to search the DWD database to see if in fact there were any employers in their county who needed trained people in the student's area of interest, along with current and projected employer demand and the wages associated with this job. Next the student will complete a 'pathway to completion,' which will lay out classes, certificates and credentials on a timeline for completion.”

Many corporate and education institution have long struggled to agree on curriculum and coursework that correlates to future job skills. So Indiana is among the first states to try providing the DWD data directly to students to promote the changes they want to see.

This Indiana Career Explore bill includes a year-long pilot for eighth-graders in 15 school districts. After the pilot, Indiana Career Explorer will be fully integrated into the state-wide eighth grade program. This bill holds promise for many other states hoping to turn the tide of the career and technical education skills gaps at home. Keep your eyes on Indiana!

Tags: Career Technical Education

Could a Shortage of Career and Technical Educators Slow Progress on Career Readiness?

April 12, 2017

A recent headline at hartfordbusiness.com caught our attention: “Vo-tech instructor shortage is manufacturing’s biggest test.” The story warned of a rising shortage of career and technical instructors to help prepare a new generation of talent to replace retiring workers at Connecticut manufacturing plants.

Hmm, we wondered, is this a regional blip or a national trend? It didn’t take much digging to unearth similar stories all over the country:

In California, “Supply lags booming demand for career technical teachers.” In Minnesota, “Where are all the career and technical educators?” and “Career and technical education shortage must be addressed with a sense of urgency.” In Michigan, “Shortage of qualified instructors a challenge for school CTE programs.” In North Dakota, “Career, tech ed struggle with teacher shortages.”

National indicators bear out the headlines. In a 2016 U.S. Department of Education listing, many states projected teacher shortages in career and technical (CTE) education, among other subject areas. 

What’s Going On?

Several factors appear to be at play. Schools have been rolling out new, robust CTE programs—and student interest in CTE is growing. CTE is replacing traditional vocational–technical education, which has fallen out of favor. That’s because vo-tech typically did not prepare students for education after high school, which is now essential for most middle and high-skilled jobs. Today, the best CTE programs provide rigorous academics, applied learning experiences and, in some cases, recognized credentials. CTE also offers pathways to both postsecondary education and attractive careers in high-demand, fast-growing fields such as advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, engineering, environmental services, health informatics, information technology and finance.

The bench of qualified teachers is inadequate to meet this demand. As vo-tech programs declined, many postsecondary institutions eliminated teacher education programs focused on this specialty. To boost the supply of teachers, some states are offering alternative certification or relaxing CTE teacher licensing requirements, which may require specialized skills and even years of industry experience. Teacher salaries, meanwhile, don’t come close to compensating for this level of expertise, but lowering standards risks hurting students.

Looking to the Business Community for Solutions

Licensing changes alone will not be enough to staff up CTE programs. Instead, states are looking to new approaches and new collaboration with industry, which benefits from workforce preparation by CTE programs.

There seems to be overwhelming interest nationwide in closer collaboration with the business community. In a 2016 report by Advance CTE and the Council of Chief State School Officers, 98 percent of 47 state CTE directors surveyed said that increasing access to “industry experts”—people with both knowledge and experience in a specific industry and the knowledge, skills and abilities to support students and collaborate with teachers—is a key priority area today in high schools. Moreover, 100 percent said that it will be an increasing priority in the future. This report champions the role of industry in supporting CTE, and suggests that industry experts could serve as part-time or adjunct high school instructors, career advisors or counselors, mentors and career coaches, and advisors for school CTE organizations.

In California, a recent policy brief offers a similar set of solutions to the “severe” shortage of CTE teachers, where 67 percent of high schools with career pathways programs reported that recruiting and retaining instructors with appropriate credentials is challenging or very challenging. “Industry partners are crucial to addressing this shortage,” according to this policy brief. Among other recommended solutions: more funding for CTE teacher preparation, pathways to teaching for employees within industry sectors, pre-service and in-service CTE teacher preparation in industry, and industry mentorship to support new CTE teachers. 

States and corporate organizations up for the challenge will need to tap into their repertoires of evidence--like state Vital Signs reports or local workforce data--to illuminate weak areas and build better strategies for connecting CTE teachers and industry partners with eager students.

Tags: Career Technical Education, teachers

Business/Education Partnerships Can Thrive in California

April 5, 2017

Companies are often wary of collaborating with school districts, because they worry that education bureaucracies will hamstring their efforts. Fortunately, big changes have been afoot in the nation's largest state for some time now. California is urging its school districts to forge stronger partnerships with school districts, and the state is even putting its money where its mouth is.

Businesses have more opportnities to join school district leaders at the planning table, and the state continues to put serious money behind efforts to promote school-based learning. for more information, check out our new guide to help California companies take advantage of these incentives.   

New Opportunities to work with schools

Tags: Career Technical Education, jobs & workforce

NEW DATA: Will We Make Time for Science and Engineering in our Elementary Schools?

March 28, 2017

For years, STEM education advocates have wanted to introduce fundamental principles of engineering as early as the elementary grades. Many have embraced the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for aiming to do just that. Are the NGSS living up to their billing so far? In elementary schools, the answer is…yes and no.

As we noted last month, states adopting NGSS are already devoting more attention to engineering and technology in eighth-grade classrooms. In fourth grade, by contrast, the picture is mixed, with most NGSS states surging ahead in those areas but others staying stagnant. Why? Odds are, the answer has to do with time. States where elementary schools spend little time on science will probably not fulfill the promise of NGSS.

We analyzed survey data from the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress in science to see how teachers are spending their instructional time, focusing on states that adopted the standards before 2014.[1]

We found mostly good news, but with a glaring exception:

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Most NGSS states ramp up engineering & tech in 4th grade--but not CA

California started low and ended low, falling well short of the national average for growth.

When we explored how often fourth graders discussed engineering challenges in school, we saw similar patterns:

Elementary students tackle engineering in most NGSS states--except CA & WA

California and Washington State both saw little change since 2009, and both remained significantly behind the national average for students who frequently discuss the kinds of problems engineers solve.[2]

What do these two states have in common? Elementary schools in both spend little time teaching science in fourth grade:

Some states spend less time on science

In 2015, fourth-graders in Washington State and California were much less likely to devote time to science than peers in any other state on the list of NGSS early adopters. Science is almost the only vehicle for engineering in most elementary schools, so if schools don’t attend to science, they won’t attend to engineering.

The relationship between time for science and time for engineering seems to hold for all the states we examined:

Scatterplot--relation between time for engineering & time for science

Things may still look up for California and Washington State. All NGSS states were just starting to implement the new standards in 2015, when NAEP collected these data. In fact, California remains in the early stages of implementation.

As states build their new science tests and adopt new accountability plans, they may yet create more incentives for elementary teachers to teach science. After all, most elementary teachers don’t decide on their own to give science short shift. They take their cues from states or districts that do not include science in their accountability plans, offer meager professional development in the subject, or skimp on teaching materials.

NGSS can achieve only so much if science—and thus engineering--remains the forgotten stepchild of elementary education.


[1] Our findings represent correlations (though strong ones) in a relatively small number of states. Three states that adopted NGSS before 2014 were not part of our analysis, because we did not have data on them: Kansas and Vermont (which did not participate in 2009 NAEP science), and Washington, DC (which did not participate in 2015 NAEP science). We examined results for the following survey questions: “In this class, about how much time do you spend on engineering and technology? (teacher-reported)” (None, a little, some, a lot); “In a typical week, how much time do you spend teaching science to the students in the class? (teacher reported)” (<1 hour, 1-1.9 hours, 2-2.9 hours, 3-3.9 hours, 4-4.9 hours, 5-5.9 hours, 6-6.9 hours, 7 hours or more); “About how often do your science students discuss the kinds of problems that engineers can solve? (teacher reported)” (Never or hardly ever, Once or twice a month, Once or twice a week, Every day or almost every day).

[2] From the evidence at hand, Washington State seemed to do somewhat better in technology than in engineering. The data don’t tell us why, but fourth-grade teachers may have found time for technology content in subjects other than science.

Tags: Next Generation Science Standards, science

Quick take: New Jersey's Computer Science Challenge

March 23, 2017

The impending talent shortage in computer science has been in the news for some time now. New Jersey could face a particularly sharp challenge.

A Quick look at our Vital Signs for the state reveals some troubling trends. No other state has seen a steeper decline in the number of degrees and certificates awardedn in computer science and related fields:

Declining degrees in computer science

This trend is perplexing, because demand for computing talent in the state remains robust. According to Economic Modeling Specialiststs, International, the state boasts one of the highest concentrations of computing jobs in the nation [1], and prospects for future growth look robust:

New Jersey STEM job growth

These conflicting trends do not bode well for New Jersey. That said, there may be glimmers of hope. The state is among the growing number that allows high schoolers to count computer science credits towards graduation requirements, and charts like the ones we share here will surely push state advocates to go even farther. After all, grim realities can be very compelling.

To dig into more data on STEM education in New Jersey, check out our New Jersey PowerPoint presentation.

[1] EMSI ranks the state eighth on this measure.

Tags: computer science

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