Today's guest post is written by Linda Fandel, special assistant for education to Iowa Governor Terry E. Branstad.
Being good at math and science is a ticket to a prosperous future – for young people, the state, and the nation. That’s why Iowa’s overall drop in the rankings on national tests is alarming. And why the achievement gap, between Hispanic and African-American students on the one hand and white students on the other, is tragic.
A much greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is needed. How can we engage more students in these subjects? Which programs work best to boost achievement? How can business and industry play a greater role in shaping what is taught in school, so it’s relevant to the real world? All of this must happen as part of creating world-class schools.
Iowa’s statistics are troubling: Iowa eighth-graders on average scored first in math in 1992 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But by 2009, they had tumbled to 28th place, with 16 states or jurisdictions scoring significantly higher.
And between 2003 and 2009, no state’s eighth-graders made less progress in math on those tests except West Virginia’s. Indeed, white Iowa eighth-graders saw no academic growth in that period.
Now look at Iowa’s achievement gap: In 2009, there was a 21-point gap in the average math performance of white and Hispanic eighth-graders compared to a national gap of 26 points. The gap between Iowa’s black and white eighth-graders in math in 2009 was 28 points compared to the national gap of 32 points.
The movement to adopt common educational standards by most states – including Iowa – won’t be enough by itself to improve the grim statistics. Instruction must become more effective, including better preparing elementary teachers to teach math and science.
Students struggling to learn need more help early on. The culture of expectations in and outside schools has to change. We will leave our children at a disadvantage if we fail to put in place policies that give them a globally competitive education.
That’s what the world’s highest-performing school systems have done. They were not always international academic stars, but decided to deliberately transform education, and saw success.
The Change the Equation website calls for “Great Teaching,” “Inspired Learners, and “A Committed Nation” to improve STEM education. Iowa should lead the way in meeting that challenge.
This blog was also posted today on Linda Fandel’s Iowa Education blog.