STEM Beats - minorities

American Indian Students Face Deep Inequities

September 18, 2017

The  plight of American Indian elementary and secondary students often gets lost in reports about broader racial and ethnic gaps in educational opportunity. Their relatively small numbers can easily disappear into much larger datasets on students of color. Where it's possible to tease out data in American Indians, the results often look grim. Take K-12 science or example:

American Indian fourth graders are least likely to have access to science equipment and supplies:

Little access to 4th-grade science supplies or equipment

Eighth-grade American Indian students are least likely to attend schools with science labs:

American Indian 8th-graders least likely to have schools with science labs

American Indian high schoolers are least likely to be in schools that offer physics classes every year:

American Indian high schoolers have least access to physics

American Indian students in every U.S. state probably suffer from similar disparities, but small sample sizes in most datasets prevent us from knowing for sure. This is a problem.

A recent piece by Rebecca Clarren in The Nation puts it this way: "Without reliable data and research [on native students], government agencies at every level don’t know how to fix problems or allocate funds." By way of example, Clarren points to "The Johnson O’Malley program, created in 1934 to fund basic educational needs of Native students," which relies on information about the size of the American Indian population:

Congress hasn’t completed the necessary population survey since 1994, while the number of Native students has grown by approximately 4 percent per year—meaning that the same pool of money authorized in 1994 must now cover far more children. In 1995, the federal government allocated $125 per student; last year, the allotment was just $63.80.

Data are important, because they can attract attention and resources. The National Center for Education Statistics helps fill the gap by releasing the invaluable National Indian Education Study every few years, yet that study does not cover access to STEM education opportunities. 

At a time when STEM education is a critical gateway to the middle class, states should do more to shine a light on American Indian students' STEM opportunities.

Tags: minorities

Dropping the Algebra Requirement: a Solution, or a Surrender?

August 8, 2017

The Cal State system, which enrolls almost half a million California students, will no longer require them to pass Intermediate algebra. The decision may have been necessary, but it raises unsettling questions about the prospects of a diverse STEM workforce.

It’s reasonable to see Cal State's move as a simple case of education Realpolitik. Too many students get stuck in the bottleneck of intermediate algebra, a remedial course that delays their progress, drains their bank accounts, and raises dropout rates—all without conferring college credit.

Such august organizations as The Charles A. Dana Center, Complete College America, and Jobs for the Future have endorsed the move, arguing that other math courses are more appropriate for students who don’t plan to major in STEM fields. Their logic is compelling: Why uphold the idea of intermediate algebra for all when it stands between so many students and college graduation?

And yet the move risks exacerbating the very problems that forced administrators’ hands in the first place. If past is prologue, many poor and minority students will avoid intermediate algebra rather than fail it.* The Cal State System’s change could effectively codify the informal sorting mechanisms that have long kept those students out of STEM fields.

Cal State’s move could also send a message to high schoolers, their parents, and their schools that algebra is too hard for some students--and not that important, anyway. Poor and minority teens, many of whom have never met anyone in a STEM field, may well take that message to heart. If so, they are essentially taking themselves out of contention for many of the nation’s highest-paying careers.

This is not a call for Cal State to uphold the principle of algebra for all at the expense of the many thousands who cannot complete the course. High ideals don’t amount to much if they don’t offer real help to real people. Rather, the end of algebra for all in so many colleges and universities underscores the urgent need to expand math education opportunities in K-12.  

Too many poor and minority students face barriers in their communities and schools that all but destine them to opt out of intermediate algebra. Many start Kindergarten behind, and their elementary and middle school teachers say they lack support to teach math. Teachers are less likely to recommend high-achieving minority students for gifted programs or algebra in eighth grade. Poor and minority students are much more likely to attend schools that don’t offer advanced math. Indeed, of the roughly 41,000 black and Latino high schoolers who had the potential to succeed on AP math and science tests in 2014, only half actually took them.

It may be necessary—at least for now—to surrender to the harsh realities that drove Cal State’s decision. Yet we still need to uphold challenging standards in K-12. Ensure that teachers of math have the support they need. Give students more and better counseling about the courses they need to take for different careers. Help schools prepare students for AP classes and tests. Coax more STEM majors into the classroom, particularly in poor schools. The list goes on.

Yes, this is a tall order, but the decision to drop math requirements should never be a signal that we’re giving up on preparing every high school graduate to pursue a STEM degree in college if she chooses to do so. All too often, we limit, rather than expand, students' options.

Tags: minorities, math, standards

Eye-Popping Gains in Computer Science!

August 2, 2017

All too often, stories about education reform start with herculean efforts and end with anemic results. Fortunately, the story of at least one large national reform movement is poised to have a happier ending. The push to expand computer science in K-12 is already yielding impressive results.

According to early data from The College Board via Code.org, the numbers of high schoolers taking any Computer Science AP more than doubled between 2016 and 2017. The numbers for girls and students of color grew even faster--135 percent and 170 percent, respectively. The College Board's new test--AP Computer Science Principles--contributed most of those gains. 

AP CS Exams chart
Source: Code.org

Girls rose from roughly 18 percent to 27 percent of all test takers from 2013 to 2017, and students of color advanced from 12 to 20 percent over the same period. If we keep to this pace, we can close the gaps in gender and race/ethnicity in just over a decade. For ed reform veterans who are used to the snail's pace of change in education, those numbers are eye-popping.

Technology companies, visionary state leaders, and organizations like The College Board and Code.org have fueled this growth through their full-throated advocacy and support. Employers raised a hue and a cry about computer science in schools and joined other advocates in urging states to guarantee computer science classes every high school. The College Board created Computer Science Principles to introduce students to "the underlying principles of computation," and organizations like Code.org have helped prepare students for the test through new courses and teacher training.

CTEq just included two such courses in STEMworks, our honor roll of programs that stand up to rigorous review. Code.org's AP Computer Science Principles course "introduces students to the foundational concepts of computer science and challenges them to explore how computing and technology can impact the world." 

Computer Science Discoveries, also from Code.org, targets seventh- to ninth-graders, empowering them "to develop digital and physical projects using creativity and problem solving in a fun, collaborative environment." Both courses are filling a vacuum in our nation's middle and high schools, where computer science courses have been as rare as hen's teeth, even as the tech revolution has raged just beyond their walls.

Indeed, last year, CTEq released grim data on access to computer science classes by race and ethnicity::

Race determines access to computer science classes

Given the new data on AP participation, we have high hopes that these numbers will change for the better:

Of course, that won't be the whole story. CS advocates have a monumental task ahead of them, even as they expand access: They must train thousands more teachers to teach the new courses, and those teachers need to lift their students over the AP tests' high bar.

No easy task, but we're off to a good start.

Tags: computer science, women & girls, minorities

Five Top STEM High Schools for Inclusion & Equity

June 15, 2017

The U.S. News & World Report recently released its list of the Best High Schools for STEM across the nation. Schools like these help address STEM skills shortages felt by employers nationwide. But some of the schools on this list are especially dedicated to addressing the STEM challenges of inclusion and equity with programs and recruitment efforts that strengthen STEM pipelines for underrepresented groups. These high-achieving STEM schools make sure to serve the women, low-income, African American, and Hispanic students in their communities. Because the future of innovation relies heavily on our ability to find talent in untapped markets, we love to see schools ensuring STEM literacy for ALL. Check out these five champions of inclusion and equity in STEM education based on our analysis of the best high schools for STEM:

5. Early College at Guilford (Greensboro, NC)

National Ranking: #62

STEM Ranking: #4

Inclusion & Equity Score: 14/19

Early College at Guilford, the third ranked school in North Carolina, stands out because its students graduate with a high school diploma and up to two years of college credit from Guilford College. For those studying STEM subjects, this combination of diploma and college credits can lead to jobs with a strong living wage in a state where the median earnings for STEM jobs more than double the median earnings for all other jobs. That’s especially good news for the Early College’s 10 percent of students in the free and reduced lunch program if they or their families are unable to afford additional schooling.  

4. Troy High School (Fullerton, CA)

National Ranking: #326

STEM Ranking: #25

Inclusion & Equity Score: 17/19

The Troy Tech Magnet Program at Troy High School helps 93 percent of its student population reach proficiency or better in math, well above the California school district’s average (58 percent). These numbers are impressive considering too few students in the state, particular students of color, have access to knowledgeable STEM teachers. But with some of the best teachers in the state of California, Troy seems to tackle this problem well. Strong teachers paired with challenging STEM AP course offerings earns the 30-year-old STEM program in this diverse school a spot on the U.S. News' list.

3. Academy for Allied Health Sciences (Scotch Plains, NJ)

National Ranking: #200

STEM Ranking: #28

Inclusion & Equity Score: 17/19

The diversity of the student body at the Academy for Allied Health Sciences very closely mirrors that of the U.S. population, making it the most racially and socio-economically representative STEM school on our list. Also, we’re happy to see 91 percent of the largely female student-body (67 percent) scoring proficient or better in math; this is quite an accomplishment since female high school students in New Jersey lag behind their male counterparts in math performance.  Through challenging STEM coursework and learning opportunities at healthcare facilities, the school ensures student preparation for college and careers as doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals. Just as impressive, the economically disadvantaged students (13 percent of those enrolled) at the Academy perform substantially better than the non-disadvantaged students—a sign that students' income does not correlate with school performance here.

2. DeBakey High School for Health Professions (Houston, TX)

National Ranking: #18

STEM Ranking: #9

Inclusion & Equity Score: 19/19

We can imagine having an affiliation with the Houston Premedical Academy at the University of Houston makes DeBakey High School a future doctor’s dream school. Speaking of STEM pathways, entrance into the Houston Premedical Academy—a program designed especially for DeBakey students—gets you provisional acceptance into the Baylor College of Medicine. Since women tend to dominate many health professions, it may not surprise you that 59 percent of DeBakey students are women. But a little under half, 42 percent, of the school’s population qualifies as economically disadvantaged. Even though women and minorities make up more than half of Texas’s population, those groups are much less likely to become STEM professionals. Debakey’s programs help pave the way to STEM jobs for many of Texas’s underserved youth.

1. School for the Talented and Gifted (Dallas, TX)

National Ranking: #4

STEM Ranking: #6

Inclusion & Equity Score: 19/19

The numbers just don’t lie. Sixty percent of the children enrolled in this school are women, 63 percent minority, and 27 percent in the free and reduced lunch program. But what’s really catching our eye is that 100 percent of the students considered disadvantaged scored proficient or above in math! Because this is a selective magnet program, the school receives funding based off it's ability to recruit and retain students outside of its local attendance zone. In a state where science and math performance is greatly divided by racial and income lines, this approach seems to work well. The stats clearly show that Dallas’ School for the Talented and Gifted has a formula for education that supports high-achievement for all of its diverse student body—no matter the ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status. Not to mention its partnerships with local universities increase students' STEM course offerings. This school just might have it all.

STEM high schools included in this list came from the 2017 U.S. News & World Report STEM Rankings. CTEq’s Inclusion & Equity Scores were based off a point system rewarding schools for the percentage of female students, the total percentage of minority students, the representation of black and Hispanic students, and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students. 

Tags: minorities, women & girls, STEM, Top 5

Michigan Tackles its STEM Challenge--with CTEq's Help

March 9, 2017

In the past few years, Michigan has roared back to life as a magnet for STEM jobs like engineering, and the state's employers are right to wonder if they will be able to fill those jobs with qualified people. Fortunately, we see strong signs that Michigan leaders are on the case.

On Tuesday, I was honored to testify before Michigan's House Education Reform Committee about Change the Equation's efforts to help the state identify and scale K-12 STEM education programs that are most likely to have an impact. CTEq's STEMworks has already helped rigorously-vetted programs, such as Engineering is Elementary and Project Lead the Way, receive $1 million in state funds. We have high hopes for much more to come.

Efforts like these are very timely. For a state that was ground zero in the Great Recession, Michigan has an uplifing story to tell about STEM jobs. For example, it has been a great place for engineers. The number of engineering jobs in the state grew 11 percent from 2006 and 2016, compared to a meager 2 percent for the nation as a whole. Engineering jobs will probably grow another 13 percent between 2016 and 2026, faster than the 11 percent projected for the nation. That amounts to tens of thousands of engineering jobs.

Will employers be able to find the engineering talent they need over the coming decade? That's a harder question to answer. There is some reason for concern. First, they cannot fully tap the state's minority talent. Black, Latinos, and American Indian Michiganders make up 23 percent of the state's college-age population but receive only 5 percent of engineering degrees and certificates:

Underrepresented minorities in engineering

Women are almost as scarce in the field:

Few female engineers

There's good news on the horizon: In late 2015, the state adopted academic standards in science that formally incorporate engineering principles. If other states that have adoped similar standards are any indication, all Michigan students, regardless of race or gender, will soon learn the fundamental principles of engineering.

Programs like those in STEMworks will only help.

Tags: STEMworks, engineering, women & girls, minorities

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