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.
Even in the earliest days of communication people saw pictorials as a useful means of telling stories and relaying important information at a glance. Here at Change the Equation we’re no different. There’s nothing like a well-planned chart, graph, or infographic to make you hungry and help you plan ahead!
Did you have any idea that 214 days of the year count as some kind of national food or drink day? That means you have an excuse to indulge just about 60 percent of the year! But where do these days come from? Our very own presidents have issued most proclamations for national food day observances since 1995. You have President Reagan to thank for National Catfish Day (June 25th). So next time you’re getting reprimanded by your doctor, nutritionist, or trainer, remember that the data and the Chef in Chief are on your side.
July leads the year as the most edible month with every single day dedicated to at least one food—including two days you don’t have to feel guilty about, National Caesar Salad Day and Fresh Spinach Day. And in a tie for last (but certainly not least palatable) place are January, February, and May. Our biggest upset though, may be that National Pie Day (January 23rd) doesn’t fall on Pi Day (March 14th). But we suppose, on the bright side, that’s two reasons to eat pie!
Click the picture below to interact with Nathan Yau's "All the National Food Days" data visualization.
Photo courtesy of flowingdata.com
As recently as 2011, “big data” was not very big news. Fast forward five years, and it consistently ranks among business leaders’ top priorities. Depending on whom you ask, the amount of data on everything from consumer behavior to corporate performance is doubling every one or two years, and analysts predict that shortages of people with the skills to analyze such data may cause high-paying jobs to go begging and companies to lose revenue.
One solution to this challenge? Better access to statistics education in high school.
CTEq’s new analysis of recent federal data on high school statistics courses is hardly reassuring. Most high schoolers attend schools that offer at least some kind of probability and statistics course, but access to gold-standard AP statistics courses is spotty—and it is anything but equitable.
Unfortunately, the picture looks worse for lower-income students:
Not surprisingly, low-income students are less likely take statistics courses:
Geography also plays a big role in who has access to statistics courses, especially AP courses. The AP gap separating town and rural students from suburban students is simply breathtaking:
This gap in access to AP courses has predictable results:
The stakes for improving access to statistics are higher than you might think. Big data can yield big benefits in fields as diverse as public health and weather forecasting, but it can also lead us astray when it loses its moorings in statistical principles.
Take, for example, the case of Google’s Flu Trends, the once-heralded big data initiative that used Google search data to estimate influenza activity in 20 countries. For all its sophisticated algorithms and mountains of data, the enterprise dramatically over-estimated the number of flu cases in the United States, because it rested on a wobbly statistical foundation. We cannot reap the rewards of big data without a healthy supply of statisticians.
So what is to be done? It may be an overreach to require every high school student to take a statistics course, given the many claims on high-schoolers' schedules. That said, expanding access to AP courses in statistics is one feasible strategy for tackling the problem. The National Math + Science Initiative's College Readiness Program has already expanded access to AP courses, including AP statistics, in states around the country.
Another solution may already be afoot. States across the country have recently adopted academic standards that include a dose of probability and statistics in middle and high school. The challenge, of course, is to prepare teachers to teach that new content at a time when many lack a strong foundation in the subject.
Despite some encouraging signs, the fate of statistics in K-12 remains an open question. The answer lies in broader access to courses and better teacher training.
If we want better teachers, then we need better incentives to teach. That is one big takeaway from a new study of teachers’ skills in 23 developed nations. Here are the study’s findings in a nutshell:
At a time when the STEM jobs pay high salaries to those with strong math skills, it can be hard to attract more people with strong math skills to the classroom. That problem, in turn, depresses U.S. students’ performance in math. Higher salaries or other incentives might help right the ship. So can programs like UTeach, which encourages STEM majors to pursue teaching.
That said, we should not turn our backs on the millions of committed teachers we already have. Professional development programs like Intel Math can boost teachers' grasp of math, even if they came to the job with wobbly skills.
(Hat tip: Education Week.)
What’s Math 2.0 Day you ask? It is a time to sit back and contemplate the crossroads between math and technology. No there’s no pie or mole sauce that comes with this holiday. But feel free to use your cellphone, engage in an online game, or check the weather as acknowledgements of math and technology contributions to society. This year, CTEq would like to celebrate this brilliant partnership by listing out cool STEM careers that require, well, Math 2.0.
1) Video Game Designer
While the use of technology may be obvious here, the use of math for video game designing isn’t as crystal. According to Quora.com, “math is everything when it comes to games. From having the ability to calculating the trajectory of an Angry Bird flying through the sky, to ensuring that a character can jump and come back down to the ground -- without the help of mathematics, games simply wouldn't work.” Maybe now you’ll look at Angry Birds a little differently?
2) Computer Animation Specialist for Pixar
Ever found yourself mesmerized at the movies by the size of Mr. Incredible’s muscles, the breeze is Elsa’s frosty white hair, or the perfect tilt on Woody’s cowboy hat? Many of your favorite characters come alive through geometric shaping and modeling. Working for one of the world’s top animations studios requires equals parts creativity, math, and software knowledge.
3) Fashion Designer
Symmetry and congruence are not just terms children hear in math class. They are the principles behind some of the world’s most glamorous fashion designs. Creating the perfect look requires measuring, calculating, and sketching. The introduction of technology allows for more accurate sketches and 3D renderings of designs.
Predicting the weather isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. It involves knowledge on computer green screen technology as well as the algorithms used for making predictions. So don’t underestimate your local weather guy’s use of math and technology!
5) Interior Design
Similar to computer animation and fashion design, creating the perfect interior requires modeling, 3D computer rendering, and accurate measuring. Math and technology have taken interior design careers to new heights. So the next time you’re searching online for your dream closet, consider the math and technology knowledge of the interior designer. Dream closet design consultations involve measuring the length and width of clients’ clothes collections and comparing that to the size and dimensions of the room and the size of the furniture pieces used.
To see more on the math and technology in Pixar animation, check out this video!