STEM Beats - education

PISA Shows Some Strides in Equity

December 6, 2016

The 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results don’t likely include much you haven’t heard before regarding U.S. students. We are falling behind many developed nations in math—23 points lower than the average of all the nations—and just staying afloat with average scores in science and reading.

In contrast, we rank amongst the biggest spenders on education. So, many nations outsmarting us are doing so while spending less. The state of Massachusetts rises above the fray, however, performing very highly in science (only Singapore outperformed the Bay state), highly in reading, and slightly above average in math. Though relevant, our PISA scorecard is not particularly compelling. The most intriguing thing to come out of the 2015 results is our improvement in socio-economic equity--the largest improvement among all of the countries participating in PISA both in 2006 and 2015. Some have criticized PISA in previous years for failing to take into account the large number of students living in poverty in the U.S. and their consistent low performance on standardized testing. But this year's results tell a different story. 

"In 2006, socioeconomic status had explained 17 percent of the variance in Americans’ science scores; in 2015, it explained only 11 percent, which is slightly better than average for the developed world," states the New York Times.

Further PISA analysis shows an increase in performance by our most disadvantaged students. In fact, the 2015 PISA identifies 32 percent of U.S. students as resilient--students that perform among the top quarter of performers in all of the participating countries despite their disadvantaged socio-economic status. This is up 12 percentage points from 2006. At the same time, the data suggests stagnant performance for our most advantaged kids with the boost from the disadvantaged students not significant enough of a bump to raise the overall scores. Parents and educators quick to dismiss PISA results because their individual high-performing students aren't reflected in this data should reconsider. If nothing else is clear, we still have a national problem that will take a unified national effort of educators, parents, advocates, students, and employers targeting student performance at every level.

Photo courtesy of the PISA 2015 Report.

Tags: math, science, education

New Data: Bridging the Computer Science Access Gap

August 9, 2016

What’s wrong with the following picture? Jobs in computing are widespread, they are multiplying far faster than in other fields, and they pay much more, yet only 22 percent of U.S. 12th-graders say they have ever taken a computer programming class. More than half couldn’t take such a class if they wanted to, because their high schools don’t offer any. Students of color, low-income students, and rural students fare worst of all.   

At a time when millions of Americans worry about wage stagnation, inequality, and dwindling opportunities, this situation is perverse. Change the Equation’s new analysis of recent federal data reveals the depth of the problem. Fortunately, some states and school districts are committing themselves to giving every high schooler access to computer science.

Computer science unlocks a bright future

People with knowledge and skill in computer science have good reason to hope for a bright future:

Computer science is a gateway to a prosperous future

In fact, these sunny figures may actually understate the demand for computing talent.  Last year, a CTEq study found millions of Americans who maintain computer networks or use programming languages at work, even though their job titles aren’t even in STEM fields. As computing spreads across the economy, fully half of the computing workforce has been flying under the radar.

Computing jobs span the economy

New data reveal yawning computer science access gaps in K-12

Well less than half the nation’s high school seniors attend schools that even offer any kind of computer science course. Fewer than one in four attends a school that offers AP Computer Science, the gold standard for computer science classes.

Few students attend schools that even offer computer science

Low-income high schoolers have even worse prospects:

Low-income students have less access to computer science

Black and American Indian students also have less access than their peers. In fact, the percentages of American Indian students with access to computer science are downright shocking:

Race determines access to computer science classes

Students in rural areas face terrible odds as well:

Computer science classes are scarce in small-town and rural schools

One common-sense solution: Require every school to teach computer science

If schools don’t offer computer science classes, we cannot very well expect students to take them. A growing number of school districts and states have  ambitious plans to remove the first hurdle  by making computer science classes available to every high schooler.

School districts such as San Francisco Unified, the Chicago Public Schools, and New York City Public Schools have openly committed to providing computer science classes in every school. The state of Arkansas has mandated computer science in every school as well, and their effort has begun to pay dividends, as the numbers of students taking computer science in the state have spiked

It is much too soon to declare victory for these efforts. Their success depends on the strength of computer science standards, the quality of new curricula, the ability to train teachers, and strategies for bringing broadband and teachers into rural areas. 

Yet with the help of companies like Microsoft and organizations like, districts and states are moving in the right direction.

For a very helpful defense of computer science education in K-12, see Adams Nager and Robert Atkinson, The Case for Improving U.S. Computer Science Education

Tags: computer science, science, education

STEMtistic on Display: STEM Interest Rising

June 16, 2016

The idea that kids are not interested in STEM seems completely unfounded by ACT's findings. It is up to educators, parents, mentors, and STEM advocates to turn these STEM interested students into career-ready, STEM literate citizens.  

Source: ACT, The Conditions of STEM 2015, 2015.

Tags: math, science, education