STEMbeats Blog

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

A 24-7 Science Lesson

September 12, 2017

Since Harvey took shape as a tropical depression on August 23rd through today’s coverage of Irma, José and Katia, we’ve been treated to ongoing, fascinating in-depth scientific coverage on every channel.  The good news is that this coverage is apparently finding an audience, even beating out TV ratings for the opening week-end of the NFL season! 

We have learned that storms intensify quickly when passing over patches of warm ocean water. Harvey’s path took it over water 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding Gulf of Mexico, moving its winds from a Category 1 hurricane to a Category 4 in only a day’s time.  We have learned that Irma’s arrival ‘sucked’ the Tampa Bay ocean bed dry—albeit temporarily—though less through suction than through fierce winds pushing water away from the coast. This phenomenon, although textbook perfect, is apparently an uncommon occurrence. We got a lesson in probability as experts explained the real meaning of a 500-year flood. Not that such a massive flood occurs only once every 500 years, but rather that there is a 1-in-500 (0.2%) chance of such a flood occurring in any given year.  

Hurricane Irma seen from space

In fact, the odds are probably much worse. Houston has had three consecutive years of massive floods, so complacency is dangerous. Even more severe storms may follow on Irma’s heels this season alone. Lee, Maria, Nate and Ophelia, already named although not yet formed, may follow.  Their paths, yet to be determined, may wreak even more havoc than Harvey and Irma.

Cable and regular news outlets found willing audiences for the round-the-clock coverage, even in areas far removed from the storms’ track. Yes, there were stories about remarkable heroism and good deeds as a welcome respite from the scenes of devastation. But the steady drumbeat of scientific knowledge coming over the airwaves was inescapable. And with that drumbeat comes the responsibility for all of us to participate in the necessary decision-making that will better prepare us for these fierce storms in the future.

It is a population that understands STEM—and not just meteorologists or engineers or climate scientists or politicians—who will be the critical thinkers demanding informed public policy. Yes, Mother Nature can be fierce and unpredictable, but knowledge empowers us. We need citizens who push for better zoning policies, more up-to-date data on flood plains, better evacuation strategies, and deeper understanding of earth science. Knowledgeable voters will support good public policy and make wise personal decisions.

If mega-storms and massive floods become routine, STEM literacy can be a matter of life or death.

Tags: science

Do You Run an Excellent STEM Program? Apply for Iowa Scale Up Initiative

September 5, 2017

If you need a respite from the daily diet of partisan gridlock and political brawling, take a look at Iowa. The bipartisan Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council there has opened doors to world-class STEM education opportunities for some 400,000 K-12 students across the state since 2012.

Today, the Council is working with Change the Equation to bring leading STEM education programs to as many as one in five Iowa students next school year. If you run a STEM education program, be sure to check out the new request for applications.

Iowa is among a growing of states where leaders from government, business, higher ed, and K-12 put aside political differences and collaborate to improve STEM Education. Most important, the state house commits substantial funds to the effort, which lends it influence and staying power. 

Would you like to see something similar take root in your own state? Learn how it's done from our short history of the Iowa effort, which is hot off the presses.  To understand the Council’s impressive impact, take a look at their 2015/16 outcomes report. Here's one especially compelling tidbit: "minority students who participated in the STEM Scale-Up Program scored an average of 10 percentage points higher in National Percentile Rank in mathematics and 8 points higher in science compared to minority students who had not participated."

We hope more states take Iowa's lead.

Tags: STEMworks

K-12 Engineering and Technology Classes Have Hit the Big Time

August 29, 2017

K-12 engineering and technology have gone mainstream. A new poll from Phi Delta Kappa shows that "technology and engineering classes" top the list of Americans' priorities for school school quality.

Results: aspects of school quality

This is a startling finding. Not long ago, teaching engineering or technology classes in grade school or high school was an exotic idea. Neither subject fit easily into most school curricula, and few states' academic standards acknowledged either. Engineering was the stuff of college, and computer science seemed to atrophy within high schools as rapidly as it overtook the world beyond them.

The polling results crown years of effort. Pioneering initiatives such as Engineering is Elementary and Project Lead the Way have exposed millions of K-12 students to engineering. Computer science has seen a more recent resurgence, fueled by efforts of organizations such as Microsoft, Oracle, and The Next Generation Science Standards, which most states have either adopted or adapted, have enshrined engineering and technology in states' formal expectations for what their students should know and be able to do. We at CTEq joined with these and other advocates to make the case for careers in engineering and computing.

And now the obligatory disclaimer: We still have far to go to deliver on Americans' new vision of school quality. Computer science classes remain scarce, and most students still go through school without learning much about engineering. Even so, the nation has made big gains in a relatively short time.

And now public opinion is on our side.

Tags: engineering, technology, computer science

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