STEMbeats Blog

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

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

The High Stakes of Diversity for Washington State

May 18, 2017

Washington State may have a bright future if it maintains its dominance in the tech sector, but that could be a tall order. Lack of diversity in the STEM workforce could be the state’s Achilles heel, and that challenge has its roots in K-12.

It should surprise no one that STEM jobs pay in a state with companies like Microsoft and Boeing call home. STEM jobs in Washington State may well grow 15 percent in the coming decade, and the state’s STEM wage premium is enormous:

Washington State STEM Earnings

Unfortunately, people of color are least likely to reap these rewards. Notice for example, who earns degrees and certificates in computing or engineering:

WAshington State diversity of computing credentials

WAshington state diversity of engineering credentials

The green line in each chart represents minorities as a percentage of the college-aged population. The blue line represents the percentage of degrees and certificates that went to minorities. The wider the space between the two lines, the less well represented minorities are.

If you squint, you might seem some improvement in the last half-decade or so, but the gaps remain enormous. Black, Latino, and American Indian Washingtonians at state colleges and universities are still much less likely than their white or Asian peers to receive credentials in STEM.

The problem starts early, and it might get worse. For example, science scores for white eighth-graders in the state have climbed steadily since 2009, while those of black and Latino students have languished:

WAshington State science scores

Math scores follow similar trends, and black students fare the worst.

One possible reason: Underrepresented students of color seem to have less access to STEM learning opportunities. Teachers of African American students are less likely to say they have the resources they need to teach science:

Washington State resources to teach science

Access to lab equipment and supplies is also very uneven, and again students of color get the short end of the stick:

Washington State lab supplies

Even those students of color who have the potential to succeed on Advanced Placement tests in STEM often don’t take them:

Washington State Students who could thrive in AP don't take tests

Many may attend schools that don’t offer AP classes or their equivalents.

These disadvantages can add up over time and exacerbate the gaps. In Washington State, Blacks and Hispanics hold only seven percent of computing jobs and five percent of engineering jobs, even though they make up 15 percent of the state’s working-age population. For a state that will need all the STEM talent it can get, such inequities can be devastating.

Fortunately, STEM advocates in organizations like WashingtonSTEM have worked with state leaders to put STEM education at the forefront. The state has embraced robust new science standards. It aims to increase students’ access to computer science education. It is bringing STEM into early childhood education. It will take time for policies like these to affect the workforce, but they are a vital down-payment on the state’s prosperitys.  

To learn more about STEM in Washington State, check out our STEM Vital Signs page, or download our data presentation on the state.

Tags: computer science, engineering, diversity, jobs & workforce

From Chem Lab to Crayon Box

May 11, 2017

In 2009, chemists at Oregon State University (OSU) discovered a new blue color—the first new blue in over 200 years—purely by happenstance.

“People have been looking for a good, durable blue color for a couple of centuries,” said Mas Subramanian, a professor of material science in the lab where they made this discovery, told NPR last summer.

But why is blue so coveted—besides being America’s favorite color? Looking at the earth’s oceans and sky, there certainly seems to be no lack of the pigment.

“Blue pigments can’t be readily extracted from the natural environment,” said scientist and blue-enthusiast Marc Walton. “So, artisans across the millennia have had to use their innovative abilities to manufacture synthetic blue pigments.”

When referencing difficult extraction, Walton talked about the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli—a deep blue metamorphic rock found in Afghanistan.  This stone has mesmerized the world since the beginning of time. In fact, the word for blue in many languages, including the English azure, comes from the latin name of this stone.

The history and science of manufactured blue pigments as well as the world’s love of it, opened the door for commercial use of Subramanian’s bright and durable material.

The staff at Crayola, especially, jumped at the chance to bring a new blue to the littlest consumers. Crayola collaborated with OSU and Shepherd Color Company to add the shade to the crayon box.

“Curiosity starts at a young age, as chemists we are curious just like kids,” Subramanian said. “I can understand the excitement of adding a new crayon color to the box, like adding a new element to the periodic table,”. 

Now, Crayola wants your help naming the color! Submit your suggestions on Crayola’s website through June 2. And on July 1, cast your vote for one of the top five color names. 

Photo courtesy of Crayola.

Tags: science

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

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