STEMbeats Blog

Schools and Districts Should Invest in What Works...but What if We Don't Know What Works?

July 27, 2017

Pity today’s school principals and superintendents. State and national leaders are urging them to focus their time and money on programs with very strong evidence that they work. That’s very sound advice, but it’s not easy to follow when such programs are few and far between. Fortunately, there are ways to help them school leaders navigate through a world where clear direction can be hard to come by.

Imagine for a moment that you’re a school superintendent whose mandates include beefing up computer science and engineering in your schools, a priority in your new state science standards. You head over to the two major websites that showcase education programs that meet the highest standards of evidence and find…nothing.

No offense to those two websites, The What Works Clearinghouse and Evidence for ESSA. Both provide invaluable information about programs that have proven their impact, and both should be required reading for school leaders everywhere. Yet of the literally thousands of STEM education programs in our schools in our schools today, both websites together feature only a few dozen, overwhelmingly in math.

Unfortunately, very few STEM programs have ironclad evidence that they work. That doesn’t have to mean programs that lack evidence don’t work. Many lack strong data on their outcomes for a host of good reasons. For example, their goals may be hard to measure with conventional metrics, or they cannot ethically create control groups without excluding students they need to serve. Most often, they simply lack the money for rigorous evaluations.

So what is a hapless school leader to do? She could choose the program with the slickest sales brochures, or she could choose from curated lists of programs that are likely to make a difference, even if data on impact are still hard to find. Change the Equation currently works with leaders in seven states and counting to create such lists. Our rigorous STEMworks review process helps state leaders review programs to find those that have strong theories of action rooted in research on what works. In Iowa, for example, schools and communities can apply for state funding to support STEM programs that have made it through the STEMworks review process.

STEMworks doesn't solve the problem that evidence of impact is so scarce, but others are on the case. Initiatives like Results for America and Project Evident are gearing up to help states, schools, and their nonprofit partners evaluate their efforts more rigorously and, in the process, build the base of evidence for what works. These efforts won't fill the evidence gap overnight, but we can imagine a future where clear evidence of impact can light the way forward for school leaders.

In the meantime, STEMworks offers state and local leaders a handy compass.

Tags: STEMworks

Shark Week: 20,000 Careers Under the Sea

July 26, 2017

In honor of Discovery’s Shark Week, Change the Equation wants to take a deeper dive into STEM career prospects for budding marine scientists. As you can imagine, some deep-sea careers have higher supply then demand. In fact, internationally recognized shark expert R. Aidan Martin once compared aspiring to be a shark scientist to aspiring to be an astronaut. Just about all of us are intrigued by sharks but only a lucky few get the opportunity to work with them. Other STEM careers for ocean lovers, however, expect above average growth in the next 10 years and could earn you well above average wages. And they’re careers you may not have thought of! Check out our list of STEM careers under the sea.

(1) Marine Engineer

2016 Median salary: $93,350 per year| Projected job growth: 9%| Education needed: Bachelor’s degree*

What do they do? Marine engineers test, produce and maintain equipment and vessels used at sea including ships, underwater craft, and drills. 

(2) Naval Architect

2016 Median salary: $93,350 per year| Projected job growth: 9%| Education needed: Bachelor’s degree*

What do they do? Naval architects design, construct, and operate marine vessels and structures.

(3) Marine Geoscientist

2016 Median salary: $89,780 per year| Projected job growth: 10%| Education needed: Advanced degree*

What do they do? Marine Geoscientists develop deep knowledge of natural ocean processes on Earth and other planets. They keep an eye on the imapct of changes to climate. 

(4) Hydrologist

2016 Median salary: $80,480 per year| Projected job growth: 7%| Education needed: Advanced degree*

What do they do? Hydrologists look at the movement, quality, and distribution of water across the Earth and other planets.

(5) Marine Biochemist

2016 Median salary: $82,180 per year| Projected job growth: 8%| Education needed: Advanced degree*

What do they do? Marine Biochemists study the chemical properties of the ocean using their research to develop things like medicines.

(6) Ocean Model Programmer

2016 Median salary: $102,280 per year| Projected job growth: 17%| Education needed: Advanced degree*

What do they do? These are scientists with strong programming skills that help develop and run ocean model software.

Looking for hands-on opportunities and work experience to see if an ocean career could be right for you? Check out the Shark Research and Conservation program at the University of Miami in our STEMworks database. The program's director, shark scientist and Shark Week regular Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, uses people's curiosity about sharks to get them interested in STEM while teaching conservation practices. See him and his team at work in some special Shark Week footage below!

*Salary, job growth, and education data found in the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Tags: science, engineering

Doubly Disadvantaged in Massachusetts: High-Poverty Schools in a High-Flying State

July 18, 2017

Massachusetts has earned bragging rights for its successes in education.  Few other U.S. states have seen such swift gains in students’ performance over the past two decades. Massachusetts eighth-graders lead the nation in math and science, and they can even hold their own against students in high-performing countries like Japan and Singapore. These achievements are the legacy of bold and sustained school reform championed by visionary leaders.

Yet students in Massachusetts’s poorest schools might as well live in a different state. We took a closer look at data from The Nation’s Report Card and found that those students have not fared as well as their peers in wealthier schools—particularly in science.

In Massachusetts schools where more than 75 percent of students qualify for free or subsidized lunch, eighth-graders seem to have lost ground in math between 2013 and 2015:*

In science, students in high-poverty schools are barely keeping pace with their peers nationwide:

Students in the state’s high-poverty schools lack opportunities to learn math and science. For example, they have less access to teachers with the background and support they need to teach the subjects:

Students in the state’s high-poverty schools also lack facilities and materials for science:

(To read more about high-poverty schools in Massachusetts, download our Massachusetts PowerPoint presentation on the subject.)

We don’t mean to pick on Massachusetts, which has been a trailblazer in school reform. Rather, Massachusetts offers a stark reminder that deep inequities can lurk behind our most inspiring success stories.

Massachusetts suffers from a problem that afflicts the nation as a whole, as our recent brief on high-poverty schools illustrates. The solutions we suggest in the brief aren't easy--shoring up teacher preparation, making teaching resources more broadly available, expanding access to excellent afterschool programs, among others.

Still, such efforts are critical at a time when one in six Massachusetts students--and one in four students nationwide--attends a high-poverty school.

NEW BRIEF: Ending the Double Disadvantage

July 6, 2017

Poor students who attend schools where the vast majority of their peers are poor as well labor under a double disadvantage. They suffer the deprivations of poverty, and their schools concentrate those deprivations. Students in schools where more than 75 percent of students are eligible for free or subsidized lunches are much least likely to have access to STEM resources, experiences, and classes most wealthy parents would demand for their children.

Change the Equation released a brief today with extensive new data on the problem and suggestions for tackling it: Ending the Double Disadvantage: Ensuring STEM Opportunities in our Poorest Schools. Download the brief and share it widely to raise awareness of this critical challenge.

One quarter of the nation's K-12 students attend schools where more than 75 percent of their peers qualify for free or subsidized lunches--and that share is growing. We cannot afford to squander than much talent.

Tags: low-income students

Remembering Mitchell Chester

June 29, 2017

We were stunned and deeply saddened by news that Mitchell Chester, the nation's longest-serving state superintendent of education, passed away unexpectedly on Monday night. 

In the nine years he served as Massachusetts state schools Commissioner, Dr. Chester was one of the nation's most consequential school reformers, a trailblazer in issues as diverse as standards, digital testing, charter schools, and teacher development.

CTEq CEO Linda Rosen was privileged to serve with Dr. Chester on the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for The Nation's Report Card. "Mitchell had a way of asking hard, thoughtful questions that reflected a lifetime of experience as a change-maker in schools and districts," Rosen said. "He quickly moved beyond merely theoretical discussions or debates that strayed from his highest goal: namely, helping children."

His sudden passing from cancer took us by surprise.  He left us much too soon, but his legacy will outlive us all.