STEM Beats - teachers

Putting a Price on Elementary Math

October 12, 2017

Take a close look at the following chart. It conveys some bad, but not surprising, news about math education in elementary schools.

Students who aspire to elementary teaching face low scores & salaries

Students who are most likely to succeed in college math are most likely to plan majors in fields like engineering, computer science, or medicine, which lead to high-paying STEM jobs. No surprise there. Those who aspire to elementary teaching, by contrast, are among the lowest-paid professionals on the list, and most have a shaky foundation in math.

That spells trouble for elementary school children, whose grasp of math is unlikely to exceed that of their teachers. Elementary math skills are after all among the most important predictors of success in high school.

If our elementary teachers remain near the bottom of the salary and math achievement scales, can we expect our students to be first in the world?

Tags: math, teachers

Back to School: Do Schools and Teachers Have the Support They Need?

August 24, 2017

TV ads and news stories featuring parents and their children buying school supplies herald the close of summer just as surely as shorter days and falling temperatures do. These images tend to convey hope and optimism: children fully equipped for a fresh start in a new year. The reality, however, is less rosy.

Leave aside for a moment the fact that many parents cannot easily afford school supplies. Even students lucky enough to start the year will full backpacks will too often enter schools where teachers lack the supplies, materials, and support they need to teach. As we start a new school year, we should keep a few of our recent STEMtistics in mind.

Schools lack lab supplies, a problem most likely to afflict students of color:

Science labs and supplies are even scarcer in elementary schools, especially in those that enroll the most low-income students:

 

Teachers say the lack the resources to teach math and science—and, again, poor students get the short end of the stick:

These data are troubling at a time when dozens of states have ratcheted up their math and science standards. Schools and teachers need all the support they can get to lift students to these standards, and it’s not clear that enough help is on the way.

There are some encouraging signs, however. A new brief from Chiefs for Change highlights states such as Massachusetts and New York that give teachers strong teaching materials aligned to new standards--while respecting local authority and teachers' autonomy over what they teach. Programs like ASSET STEM Education and the Amgen Biotech Experience offer supplies and equipment--together with teacher professional development--to prepare schools for new science standards.

Yet, as the Chiefs for Change brief suggests, these examples are the exceptions that prove the rule. It's high time to learn from them.

Tags: science, math, teachers

Do teachers have the resources they need in math? Troubling trends

June 13, 2017

Amidst the current avalanche of political news, it’s easy to forget that K-12 academic standards were recently a topic for fiery debate at statehouses and dinner tables across the country. But let’s not forget one of that debate’s biggest lessons: Standards could founder if teachers lack the tools and support to reach them.

New York State, which is still feeling the aftershocks of the debate, offers a compelling illustration of this lesson. The state adopted Common Core State Standards in 2010 and began implementing the standards in 2012. The state’s teachers union withdrew their support for the new standards in spring 2013, arguing that teachers lacked teaching materials and time to prepare students for tough state tests keyed to the new standards. The state’s plans to evaluate teachers using the results of those tests simply fanned the flames.

Survey data from The Nation’s Report Card reflect the dramatic decline in New York teachers’ satisfaction:

Fewer teachers say they have the support they need to teach math--chart

Between 2011 and 2013, the share of students whose teachers said they had “all” or “most” of the resources they needed to teach math tumbled by a stunning 24 percentage points.

Teachers’ discontent has had a lasting impact. Just this month, New York State is completing a review and revision of its state standards. State leaders backed down on much of their standards-based reform agenda after teachers found common cause with parents, who rebelled against challenging and time-consuming state tests tied to those standards.

The irony here is that New York State was a trailblazer in creating math curriculum and materials aligned to the new standards states adopted across the country. In 2012, the state funded the development of what would later become Eureka Math, which has become the nation’s most widely adopted math curriculum, and one of the most highly rated. 

That help came too late for teachers who would be accountable for student test results so soon after tougher standards came on the scene--and before the ink was dry on the new curricula. The causes of New York’s anti-standards revolt are complex, but teachers can quickly sour on standards if they lack the support they need.  

New York State offers an object lesson for the United States. While New York’s trendline in the chart above is alarming, the national trend is also unsettling. The percentage of U.S. students whose teachers feel they have the resources they need dropped steadily but significantly between 2011 and 2015. Almost one third of U.S. eighth-graders in 2015 were in math classrooms with teachers who said they lacked support. Advocates for standards should watch this trend carefully when new data come out for 2017.

Schools across the country are still adjusting to more demanding expectations for what their students should know and be able to do. The public debate over the standards may have ebbed, but the need to give teachers the resources and materials they need has not diminished one bit. 

Tags: standards, math, teachers

Lack of Teacher Support Prolongs the Elementary Science Drought

May 10, 2017

On Monday, we explored the troubling state of science education in the nation’s elementary schools. One likely reason for the drought? We argued that elementary teachers are unlikely to spend much time teaching science, because they feel so ill prepared to teach it. 

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress support our suspicions. They show a compelling relationship between the amount of professional development fourth-grade teachers receive in science and the number of hours they spend teaching it.

Fourth-grade teachers who receive more training in science instruction spend more time on science

Fourth-grade teachers who receive training on lab activities spend more time teaching science

Yes, these data do not prove a causal relationship between professional development and instructional time, but they do support a pattern that shouldn’t be surprising: the elementary science drought will probably continue unless teachers get the support they need. 

Tags: science, Next Generation Science Standards, teachers

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

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