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Climb Up from the Underrepresented with STEM

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

The goal is to prepare every high school student in the United States to be college and career ready. I read Beyond the Messy Truth by Van Jones and discovered a way forward. He wrote about high school students who were capable of downloading every app that came up on their cell phones, but the rare student had any idea how to build those precious apps for every student on the block.

And he asked who is making the money? or creating something new? He wanted to intrigue students with the idea that almost anyone can join the technology field – if your school, even in a low-income community, is equipped to guide you in that direction.

So, how to get past the anxiety and anger about the achievement gap? Where the school funding issue comes in as we’ve seen in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona – but really all over the country. Of course, we want students to be good readers and writers, but mathematics and science are also going to lead to careers. It might be writing about the latest marine biology study or the newest statistical study about plastics in the oceans. If the students can’t code or know computing tech skills, needed in any field, even art and music, they will have trouble in both college and career.

A Department of Labor report says that by 2020 1.4 million computer-science jobs will be in the tech sector. Only 400 thousand students will graduate from a 4-year college or university with a STEM degree.

Look – projects to which schools can direct students or include as part of the STEM curriculum to close the gap for underrepresented people in STEM fields:

  • #YesWeCode is organized to attract disadvantaged, urban and rural, or nontraditional background youth. It runs the biggest scholarship fund in the U.S. to help students gain access to computer-science education.
  • Qeyno Group and Hidden Genius Project, both based in Oakland, California are geared to black male youth who with support can become knowledgeable tech experts and enter college with the skills needed to succeed.
  • The Ford STEAM Lab based in Michigan has the same purpose – to provide programs for low-income youth to succeed during school and after class.
  • Black Girls Code and Girls Who Code are specifically classes for summer or after-school programs to learn tech skills including building apps.
  • Code.org partners with schools to bring tech curriculum into the classroom.

Say you’re the teacher in a school that has seen the light at the end of the tunnel and has established a wide variety of high tech programs, but you’re more interested in teaching students about the physical world, not the man-made technologies that do good and evil to Mother Earth. Computer science plays a part in everything we do in the 21st century, but Clean Technology is the way that won’t destroy the planet.

Where are the students who need to learn about the ways to protect the world? Low-income communities live in the worst areas for green problems like air pollution and water contamination. 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, and 80% of Latino communities live in areas that don’t meet EPA standards of air quality.

Remember how in April 2016 three Lakota Sioux teenagers set up a prayer camp at the north end of Standing Rock Sioux reservation to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline route to move half a million gallons of oil a day under the Missouri River – the source of the reservation’s drinking water?

Protest, but also teach about ecology and the climate changes that affect the air, water, and earth. So students will take the college/career path to be the engineer who knows the risks and plans for them. Or the biologist who watches for the leaks that affect the plants and animals. Or the tech who designs a better model that accounts for environmental factors. Or the mathematician who calculates the risks. And the environmental writer who keeps us informed.

Government jobs in the EPA, the Coalition for Clean Air, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the Natural Resources Defense Council are just some organizations that need green energy solutions and the high school graduates from all over the country who finish college with the tech skills ready to pursue Clean Technology career fields.

For instance, since 2016 renewable energy jobs are created twelve times faster than in the rest of the economy. Three million jobs were in wind and solar energy alone.

One program oriented specifically for middle and high school students and available all over the country is the Alliance for Climate Education set up in 2010. The facilitators help the school organize Student Action teams that have started Kickstart Recycling projects and Solarize Homes projects. Do One Thing  (DOT) programs motivate students to take one action like turning off extra lights or take one-minute showers.

Take Care Schools’ suggestion is to Do One Thing: make sure your school’s underrepresented students get the high tech and clean tech teaching they need to achieve.

 

 

 

High and Low

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017
a desert high school with undocumented students

a desert high school with undocumented students

Since the last Take Care Schools post, the new tax legislation, signed into law by the president on December 23, 2017, is on the highest shelf of the “to-worry-about” list for every teacher, administrator, and parent with a child or children in public school – from pre-school to college.

Above all, lowering state, sales, and local tax deductions to $10,000 remained in the legislation. Since tax money is what state and local communities deploy to fund schools, this change in revenue in high or low tax states will lead to unfortunate choices for education, transportation, and public safety. In other words, according to the GOP, lower taxes per worker means more money in his/her paycheck, but if state and local budget choices must be made because of lower tax revenue, some of those jobs may disappear. Will that work? Let’s see.

Those well-to-do enough, and who prefer private school education, can deduct up to $10,000 from taxes to 529 college savings plans, which now can be used for K-12 private and parochial fees, and they can deduct donations made to school voucher projects organized by the state. All these loopholes help wealthy taxpayers, but not the public schools.

Also, separate legislation to change aspects of the latest Every Students Succeeds Act, sends $253 million in grants to expand charter schools with the Expanding Opportunities Through Quality Charter School Program. While it’s true that some charter schools have excellent models that support children who need a different approach to learning, only $52 million (just one-fifth!) of the funds are to reach 17 non-profit charter management organizations for replication and expansion of high quality programs. For example, Environmental Charter, Fortune School of Education, and Voices College-bound Language Academics in California, plus others across the country.

In addition, the Republicans on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce are rewriting the law that protected higher education students from for-profit predatory colleges’ loan repayments for useless degrees. Two Obama law regulations called assurance of “gainful employment” and “borrower defense” will be repealed and blocked from re-adoption. Other benefits for colleges and obstacles to for-profit colleges are being revised also. See “Education Bill Sweeps Away Obama Rules” by Erica L. Green, New York Times, December 13, 2017.

Consider the 365,000 high school students and the 241,000 college students of the 1.2 million eligible Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy (DACA)  who came into this country with their undocumented parents. The president has left it up to Congress to consider a bill by March 5, 2018, or up to 800,000 will be subject to deportation, including twenty thousand teachers. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, to replace the teachers will cost at a minimum $350 million to school districts and local taxpayers.

Recall that the Supreme Court of the United States, 35 years ago in Plyler v Doe said the State can’t deny free public education to any student residing in the country, citizen or undocumented. The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) of 2017, establishing the right to residency for children, by Durbin and Lindsey Graham – SB 1615/HR3440 – is supported by 86% of Americans, including ¾ of the most conservative GOP in a survey by ABC News/Washington Post on November 17, 2017.

Last and not least, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been given funds until mid-January, but it must be re-authorized to support the children at the lowest level of learning – early childhood education.

What can you do? Call and email your members of Congress – it’s helped before, so don’t let them get away with inaction. Reach for the high shelf and stoop to the lowest shelf to make DACA and CHIP happen. For the future ….

 

From K on Up

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

The usual uproar has resounded in the media since the latest scores for high-stakes once-a-year testing have been released. Which state has more students at Level 3 (meets the standard)? Which has more at Level 1 (not meeting the standard)? As if, that is all that counts. I hope not.

The first error of media talk is to call the results “Common Core Scores.” Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of learning standards devised to better organize what students in the United States learn by the time they graduate from high school. CCSS is not a test/assessment/exam. Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) states have designed an assessment to see how well students have achieved as they go through twelve years of learning. Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) has also developed an assessment that some states use. It is misleading to call them Common Core tests. How about “test questions aligned with CCSS” or “test questions based on standards of CCSS”?

Second, the conflict is over the test that is used, not the standards. And part of the furor is over who takes the test. Should Kindergarteners take the test? No. Should twelfth graders take the exam. No, they are taking SAT, AP exams, ACT. They’ve already learned what they are going to learn. Schools should focus on making sure those kids graduate and maybe go to college.

Third, what do the scores show? In California, overall, students did better on the English Language Arts assessment than the Math in this year’s 2015 test which the state calls the baseline to compare with the old STAR yearly exam, baseline 2003. Have all states released their outcomes? No. They are arguing about them. Instead, the issue should be to analyze how different aggregates of students did and then adjust the school/district/state curriculum to improve.

Next, why are parents and teachers upset? Because states are using the scores to evaluate teachers as well as students and calling them low-performing. I say, you don’t need tests to know how teachers or students are performing. You should use tests only to help teachers understand how to improve the curriculum; to help students get tutoring; to create small classes with more than one teacher to work with them. For example, a representative of the non-profit Californians Together says the tests can identify English Language Learners in order to find effective programs to help increase their English learning.

Last, why are schools/districts/states obsessing over a once-a-year method of assessing students? And throwing it out and starting over in hopes of getting better outcomes? If a better process was set up to train teachers; to oversee schools; to provide help for students in need; to spend time during the school year for teachers to use smaller formative assessment that allows for curriculum adaptation during the year; I feel you would see the opportunity for critical thinking, problem solving, analytical writing — the goals of CCSS.

From Kindergarten on up the gap in students’ knowledge across the country would slowly shrink.

 

 

Where is Smarter Balanced Now?

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Of 10,339 schools just in California, only 49% have satisfied the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards for 2014. This year was the year every student in the United States, even a student defined as English Language Learner or identified as needing Special Education services, was expected to be proficient in reading and math.

The U. S. Department of Education has tried waivers to give states more time to devise a plan to show achievement of impossible goals. Race to the Top grants were offered to states that had a plan to achieve these impossible goals. School districts that performed well were celebrated.

Then, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were developed so that all school districts across the country could find results for testing that was comparable from state to state. States formed two consortia with the goal to implement the standards through professional development, curricula, and, of course, assessment. As you know, the U. S. Department of Education gave each consortium approximately $175 million to set up models for school districts, taken from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds which expired October 1, 2014.

And controversy began. Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) found states dropping out of the consortia. Quarrels began with companies authorized to develop the assessments over student data. Arguments overflowed concerning the cost of investment in textbooks and technology to support the standards. Antagonism spread over how education corporations (like Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, and Scott Foresman to name a few) were waving expensive Common Core materials in front of public schools.

Much anger can be found on the education blogs about the U.K. public-traded corporation Pearson that was chosen to develop assessments for PARCC. What is Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium doing?

It makes you wince that South Carolina has withdrawn from the SBAC and insists it will set up its own standards and have ACT, known for college preparedness testing, develop assessments for 2015. No notice was given why South Carolina withdrew from the consortium. Grumbling, but no action, has been heard from New Hampshire and Missouri state departments of education.

On the plus side, nine consortium members have made a deal with the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) to establish SBAC as a separate entity based at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Information for SBAC will be consolidated. Currently, Nevada is the governing state for the consortium and Washington handles the fiscal responsibilities.

SBAC is inviting 65 K-12 teachers, college faculty, parents and others to examine assessments currently used and establish achievement levels. 4.2 million students took math or ELA or both ‘computer adaptive’ assessments this spring-a Practice Test that mirrors end-of-year assessment and/or Training Tests that familiarize students with software and navigation tools for technological assessment. At least in California, no scores are being handed down until next year.

Challenges have registered about the writing-heavy ELA assessment. It is feared that dual language students and Special Ed students will be at a disadvantage. At the same time, Joe Willhoft, the executive director for SBAC, has been part of collaborative data and assessment efforts for a long time. West Ed, based in California, has been brought in to manage services.

Next step: solve assessments difficulties.

 

 

 

The Dreaded Math and Common Core

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

Until now, nobody has asked how and why does the student use sums, subtraction, multiplication, or division to find the answer to why one train reaches a station before the other. As if most children care. In the real world they are bundled into a car. And are only interested in asking “Are we there yet?” So much for making math part of the student’s world.

It has been established that Americans, in general, are not only poor readers, but admit their innumeracy, inability to perform more than very simple arithmetic. To be kind, Americans are at a low level compared to Finland, Japan, Singapore—all countries with strong mathematical students. Do those statistics make it all right to have a few math whizzes and everyone else be a victim of innumeracy ?

As has come to the attention of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Commission, it isn’t that students are not capable of learning math concepts. It isn’t that America has poor teachers. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in the 1980s affirmed that memorizing facts was not enough. Finally, the time has come to admit that other strategies make better math learners.

However, teachers in the United States, old and young, rely on teaching the way they were taught. The issue is that very few American teachers are trained to improve their abilities in alternative teaching methods at student education institutions or in professional development classes arranged by a County Office of Education.

Take a guess why. In spite of the NCTM’s strategies, acclaimed as the best methods invented in the world, do you know a teacher at your school that will not implement a new strategy, no matter which resources are available to support a new model? What are the reasons? “It’s just another idea.” “It won’t last.” “Something else will be pressed on me.” “My kids do well enough.”

Nevertheless, transformation is happening. With the adoption of CCSS by 43 states and the District of Columbia, teachers have the opportunity to learn how students learn best and so raise the school population out of the muddy waters of innumeracy and illiteracy.

For example, in Northern California teachers attend a MERIT two-week professional development class for language and technology at the Krause Center for Innovation on the Foothill-De Anza Community College campus or FAME that stresses student collaboration to find more than one way to solve a mathematical problem. Did you know that it can be done and certainly teaches students how to think?

There are many programs like these. Search in your teaching area. Here’s the chance to change your whole concept of teaching. It takes time to change old habits, but America’s students will benefit in school and in the real world. Isn’t that the point?

To learn more about math anxieties in the U.S. read “Q: Why Does Everyone Hate the New Math” by Elizabeth Green in The New York Times Magazine, July 27, 2014.