Policies to Improve STEM Education: Focus on K-6

Blog Post at Luke Laurie’s Teacher Blog: https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/

The following was delivered as my opening remarks during the STEM education Policy Panel during the Einstein Fellowship 20th Anniversary Summit, which occured at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars on June 27 and 28, 2010.


While I believe in the importance of STEM at all levels, I believe we should focus our policies on improving STEM education at the elementary school level.

We need high quality science education in every elementary school, in every elementary classroom, for every child, regardless of language ability, disability, or income. There is no policy that will have as significant or far reaching effects as one that would ensure that all students have a strong foundation of hands-on science and technical experiences, practice with logical and critical thinking skills, and a knowledge base of facts about the world around them.

The fact of the matter is, that the K-6 STEM education pipeline is like the natural gas pipeline Sarah Palin brags about. It doesn’t exist. There are places where great science instruction is occurring for young students. These places are exceptions. We need a rule. We have been putting some modest resources into Math achievement in elementary schools, or at least test score improvement, but science, technology, and pre-engineering lessons have largely gone the way of the dinosaur, the Pontiac, and safe offshore drilling.

We will not be successful if we just impose science curriculum or science standards and testing on elementary schools without considering the workforce that would implement it, our elementary teachers; and the resources they have available for STEM, which, by and large, do not exist.

Our elementary teachers, for whom I have great respect, are, on a whole, unprepared and lack sufficient resources to effectively teach science. Those that do have the skill and ambition to teach it often must do so in spite of administrative directives. The increased emphasis on Mathematics and Language Arts has greatly limited the time teachers have to devote to science, not to mention art, music, physical education and other subjects.

Thus, an effective policy would need to train current elementary teachers, improve teacher preparation programs in STEM, provide specialists to coach and teach science in elementary schools, would mandate that comprehensive STEM instruction would occur and that sufficient time would be devoted to it, and would also provide the financial resources to bring science materials and labs to every school.

My experience working in the House of Representatives with Congressman Mike Honda enlightened me to some jurisdictional issues that can act as impediments to improving STEM education.   Perhaps other panelists can enlighten me as to how these issues have evolved in the 3 years since my Fellowship and the beginning of the Obama Administration.

The problem goes like this: I was working on legislative concepts that would best be described as fitting the topic: Science Education, not unlike the policies I just described.

When I discussed these concepts with staff on the Education and Labor Committee, or other knowledgeable professionals, I was told that Science Education was the jurisdiction Science Committee. Indeed, when I looked through the budget for the Department of Education, the only program I found related to science was the Math and Science Partnerships, which certainly don’t impact all schools for what I had in mind, and usually did not impact elementary schools. Also, if you searched the Department of Education website at that time you would find no resources related to science, only links to outside organizations.

Taking these legislative ideas over to the science committee produced similar results. “Oh, you want to do something with K-12, well that’s the Education Committee.” “But this is Science education.” “Oh, well can we turn this into a grant from NSF?”

It seems that the standard path for impacting K-12 STEM education from the Federal level is to create grant programs and other outreach programs that are administered through colleges and universities, and indirectly impact a small number of students in K-12. The vast majority of elementary students are not impacted by such programs.

This is an issue of national significance. We can’t rely on piecemeal grants, small scale experiments, inconsistent industry partnerships, charter schools, or blind faith to ensure that STEM education will happen everywhere in the United States. We need a bold, clear, national policy that will make it happen.

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Policy Recommendations on the 20th Anniversary of the Einstein Fellowship

Today Albert Einstein Fellows will be visiting the offices of Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to discuss the importance of having teachers involved in public policy. After the conclusion of our Summit at the Wilson Center, we developed a one page document of policy recommendations to distribute. The text of that document follows.

The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellows, some of the nation’s leading educators, gathered in Washington, DC on June 28-29, 2010, for a 20th Anniversary Summit.  Hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Summit brought together more than 80 current and former Einstein Fellows along with distinguished guest speakers from the White House, Federal agencies, national education organizations, and the U.S. Congress.  The goal of the Summit was to generate recommendations to inform and improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. The Summit covered a variety of educational issues, including national curriculum standards, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and educational equity.

Recommendations of the Einstein Fellows:

  • Support initiatives to enable school systems to implement innovative teaching practices in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
  • Increase funding for Pre-K-12 education, especially programs that impact each child as opposed to competitive grants.  Federal funding is vital to the maintenance and development of STEM programs in states and districts.
  • Establish national standards for science education and support provisions in the reauthorization of ESEA that give equal treatment to science as to mathematics and language arts. Science knowledge and skills, as part of a comprehensive STEM approach, are vital for all students and provide 21st Century workforce skills, promote national security and global competitiveness.
  • Include K-12 teachers, such as Einstein Fellows, in the formulation of professional development or curriculum.  The real world experience of classroom teachers is an overlooked asset when new programs are developed.
  • Base school and student assessment on multiple measures and formative assessments.
  • Create and fund a program to place science specialists to teach and coach in elementary schools.  Elementary schools can benefit from the presence of competent STEM teachers who also have skills in working with K-12 students.  They can teach STEM and also model effective strategies as instructional coaches.
  • Support legislation that encourages research-based instruction and teacher training.
  • Support federal programs to purchase science equipment and provide STEM training to teachers at the K-6 grade levels.  This will enable the delivery of inquiry-based, hands-on science experiences.
  • Establish guidelines to ensure all administrators are competent and knowledgeable in STEM education.  Student success and instructional quality depends on strong school leadership.
  • Support initiatives and funding to enable states and districts to lengthen the school day or school year.

Planning the Program for the E20 Summit

Blog Post at Luke Laurie’s Teacher Blog : https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/

Teacher’s Network Leadership Institute Fellow, Policy Work for 2009-2010

The Einstein Fellowship 20th Anniversary Summit:

Planning the Program

Introduction:

During the 2009-2010 school year I committed myself to engaging in policy work, rather than action research. My initial plan was to advocate for policies to improve STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. Little did I know, I would be swept up by a project that would become a national summit of leading STEM educators.

Background:

This year, 2010, marks the 20th Anniversary of the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship, also known as the Einstein Fellowship. This unique program brings teachers of science and mathematics to Washington, D.C. to work in the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and various federal government agencies, such as the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, NASA, and NOAA. Recipients of the fellowship are known as Einstein Fellows. They serve one-year terms living and working in Washington, D.C. With their extensive classroom knowledge, experience, and credentials, Einstein Fellows provide practical insights and “real world” perspectives to policy makers and program managers.

From 2006-2007, I served as an Einstein Fellow in the office of Congressman Mike Honda. During my fellowship, I had many opportunities to learn about policy, legislation, and government. I also had the opportunity to contribute to policy by advising the Congressman on education, appropriations, and environmental issues, and by participating in briefings and roundtable discussions on those issues. My work focused on education equity, enhancing science education, and improving the understanding of global warming. Following my fellowship year, I returned to the classroom, to continue my career teaching junior high science and robotics in Santa Maria, CA.

Summary of Work:

In Fall of 2009, I joined a group of former Einstein Fellows in conversations about the possibility of holding an event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Einstein Fellowship, by bringing Fellows from the last 20 years together for an event in Washington D.C.. We formed a Planning Committee of fellows who were committed to spending a significant amount of time making all the decisions and preparations that would be necessary. Through numerous conference calls and thousands of emails, this grassroots event evolved to become the Einstein Fellowship 20th Anniversary Summit (called the E20 Summit by the Planning Committee), which will be held in Washington, D.C. from June 27 through June 30, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. This summary was written after the planning process was complete, but prior to the actual Summit.

The Planning Committee conceptualized the event to be less of a celebration, and more of an opportunity to have a meeting of minds, to share ideas and build upon the vast and varied experiences of Einstein Fellows. We divided the work into three subcommittees: Fundraising; Logistics and Budget; and Program. The Fundraising Subcommittee successfully harnessed the support of government agencies, science and education organizations, and industry partners to provide funding to carry out the objectives of the E20 Summit. The Logistics and Budget Subcommittee coordinated the venues, vendors, and bookkeeping. I took leadership of the Program Subcommittee and became the Chair to coordinate the development of the substantive components of the Summit.

The goals of the E20 Summit, as stated in our proposal, were as follows:

  • Publish and disseminate a formal report of the E20 Summit proceedings with key recommendations to inform ESEA (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind) and improve STEM education;
  • Recognize the accomplishments of Einstein Fellows and their collective contributions to policy, programs and the advancement of K-12 STEM education;
  • Promote the professional capabilities of Einstein Fellows, and other nationally recognized teachers, to national, state and local STEM education stakeholders;
  • Illustrate the efficacy of the Einstein Fellowship program as a best practice of STEM policy inclusion for teachers and professional development model;
  • Formalize and strengthen the Einstein Fellowship network.

It was a joy to work with the other members of the Planning Committee and the Program Subcommittee. On many aspects we shared common goals. Where we disagreed, we discussed our differences in a constructive manner and found compromises that everyone could accept. All participants had served as Einstein Fellows within the last twenty years in various offices and agencies, and were from many different parts of the United States. Most were science teachers of various disciplines, and some taught mathematics. The wealth of knowledge and experience in the group was incredible. Each Fellow had many valuable connections that we were able to draw from as valuable resources to implement the goals of the Summit.

The Program Subcommittee formulated the content of the Summit. Through a lengthy brainstorming process and a series of collaborative discussions, the Subcommittee created a list of possible topics around which workshops, panel discussions, or roundtable discussions could be created. The group solicited input from active members of the Planning Committee, as well as other Fellows who might attend the Summit. From this input, we created a schedule covering topics pertinent to Einstein Fellows, and relevant to the current national dialog on STEM education. We assigned facilitators to manage the sessions and worked with them to connect with experienced speakers and panelists in positions of authority within the appropriate fields. Throughout this development process, all relevant information was compiled into a document that would become the final Program for the Einstein 20th Anniversary Summit.

The final Program is a 21-page document, and includes the following elements:

  • A welcome statement
  • A description of the three locations for events, The Wilson Center, The Rayburn House Office Building, and The J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C.
  • A brief agenda summary
  • A detailed program of all sessions and events
  • The text of H.Res. 1322, a Congressional Resolution Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Einstein Fellowship, which passed the House on June 15, 2010.
  • A list of the Planning Committee and Subcommittee members.
  • Brief biographic information about all of the facilitators, panelists, and featured guests
  • A full list of approximately 200 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellows from the first 20 years.
  • A list of sponsors and supporters

Looking Ahead:

Following the Summit, a report of the findings will be published by the Wilson Center and distributed nationally. In addition, we will be forming an Einstein Policy Team, which will work to promote and advocate for ways to improve STEM education using the findings of the Summit. The Einstein Policy Team will be involved in advocacy at the local, State, and National level. It is our hope that through this advocacy, we will be able to make notable contributions and give teachers a stronger voice.

More info on the Summit can be found at the official website:

http://sites.google.com/site/einstein20summit/

STEM Education and the Reauthorization of ESEA

Seeking Discussion Panelists for the Einstein Fellowship 20th Anniversary Summit-

Session: STEM Education and the Reauthorization of ESEA

UPDATE: The participants on this panel have been selected.

More information on the Summit can be found here:

http://sites.google.com/site/einstein20summit/

Educational Equity- Legislative Solutions

Blog Post from Luke Laurie’s Teacher Blog: https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/

Good Administration or governance requires knowledge.Our Democracy rests on the quality of public education.

The fundamental unfairness in funding, opportunity, and achievement in America’s schools is the underlying reason for a significant portion of federal education funding (Title 1), and is both a reflection and contributing factor to the continued divisions and disparity between socioeconomic, geographic, and racial groups in the U.S.

It’s well known that the funding and offerings in schools vary greatly between states, and greatly within states. It is a sad fact that we have poor schools. These are schools that serve low income students, are underfunded themselves, and are saddled with all the baggage of the worst social problems that plague our youth. What do we do?

Within education, there is extensive dialog, tremendous effort, and massive amounts of research into the fundamental causes of the problems in so-called low performing schools. The coffers of philanthropy have opened to the problems as well. These schools are receiving targeted assistance and microscopic scrutiny. But there’s something else going on.

Schools are not equal. More than that, they are not equitable. On a basic, fundamental level, public schools that primarily serve the children of wealthy people have superior facilities, more diverse learning opportunities, superior academic offerings, and fewer obstacles to instruction. We have schools with endowments and foundations, and others with lock-downs and portables. Why do the children of the wealthy deserve more than other children?

There are legal, geographic, and historical reasons for the inequities in schools, and the inequities in funding. Often, policy-makers throw up their hands at this glaring issue, because the barriers seem so great. Without getting too much into the fine detail, the following is a list of suggestions from one lone philosopher of ways to address the inequities in education from the federal level:

Education Equity-Federal Policy Suggestions

1) Amend ESEA

  1. Require minimum adequate education and facilities in schools

  2. Prevent the narrowing or limiting of the curriculum

  3. Require states to report on inequities and to address inequities

  4. Monitor and assist states from the federal level in addressing inequities

2) Create an office of Education Equity in the Department of Education

3) Amend the U.S. Constitution: Establish Education as a Civil Right

Education Equity-Federal Policy Suggestions (detail)

1) Amend The Elementary and Secondary Education Act ESEA (currently also called No Child Left Behind-NCLB) four ways are proposed to amend the next reauthorization:

  • Include language in the bill that establishes the requirement of a minimum adequate education and adequate school facilities for all school age children in states receiving funds under ESEA. The definitions of these terms would be vital, but could include items such as course offerings, athletics, class size, staff to student ratios, individualized assistance, and so on. Such an approach could be similar to H.R.2373 – The Student Bill of Rights (Fattah).
  • Include language in the bill that prevents the limiting of curriculum and educational offerings in schools in states receiving funds under ESEA. Such language could be included in the bill both to clarify the purpose of providing federal funds for education and to prevent the kind of abuses that occurred in response to No Child Left Behind. Under NCLB, schools were rewarded for “gaming the system” by reducing course offerings or redirecting time away from the subjects that were not tested to Mathematics and Language arts. By reducing time spent on PE, science, history, and the arts, schools could show marginal gains in achievement, while depriving students of uncounted and undocumented learning opportunities. This provision could specify that education should be well rounded, and should include a wide variety of subjects for all students, regardless of their language ability, ethnicity, or disability. Such language was circulated in the 110th Congress by Congressman Mike Honda.
  • Establish State Reporting Requirements that will strong-arm states into addressing the inequities in their schools. ESEA requires states to report on all kinds of data about schools, students, teachers, and learning. Why not require in these reports efforts and progress by states on creating equal educational opportunities in their education systems? Such a report could include, for example:
  • The degree of inequity in funding in the state; highest publicly funded schools vs. lowest, as well as average funding levels, etc. Perhaps in coordination with the National Center for Education Statistics or one of these research bodies.
  • The racial and economic makeup of the lowest funded schools and highest funded schools
  • The educational offerings, programs, and facilities in highest and lowest funded schools (is there music, athletic facilities, etc. in low funded schools)
  • The efforts being taken by states to promote equity in both funding and offerings in schools
  • Legislative and legal factors that inhibit implementation of an equitable education system
  • Steps being taken to address the legislative and legal factors

States could then be required to be assessed on whether they are meeting the requirements of pursuing educational equity within their state, and could receive guidance from the fed on how to address these issues- see below.

2) Create an office of Education Equity in the Department of Education to study and to provide assistance to states to address the inequities in their schools. The office could be responsible for assimilating state data on educational equity, publishing reports on nationwide equity issues, in coordination with other statistical bodies. The office could also act in a capacity to assist states in revising their tax codes, budgets, and education codes in order to implement equitable education in their state.

3) Amend the U.S. Constitution to establish education as a fundamental civil right to be preserved and maintained by the federal government. This is a ‘hammer of the gods’ approach to addressing a broad variety of issues, while creating a whole new set of problems to deal with. The U.S., in spite of what you may read or hear, does not have a cohesive education system, it has 50 separate ‘systems’ that are often in competition with one another for Federal funds. The Federal government doesn’t coordinate our education system, it herds the United States of cats.

Education is not one of the powers explicitly given to the Federal Government in the U.S. Constitution. Receiving a quality education is not explicitly listed as a fundamental civil right in the bill of rights. Therefore, the obligation to provide education falls to the States, who accept the duty with varying degrees of commitment, and with different priorities. Part of the reason why NLCB was such a catastrophe was because it was an attempt to exert greater authority over the states, who prior to the bill saw the federal role in education as one of benefactor, not overseer.

I would imagine that some states would fight the idea of federal control of education tooth and nail, but I would imagine that some states would be happy to shrug off the burden they’ve neglected for so long.

Educational Equity-Legislative Possibilities

balance1

The fundamental unfairness in funding, opportunity, and achievement in America’s schools is the underlying reason for the existence of a significant portion of federal education funding (Title 1 and IDEA), and is both a reflection and contributing factor to the continued divisions and disparity between socioeconomic, geographic, and racial groups in the U.S.

It’s well known that the funding and offerings in schools vary greatly between states, and greatly within states. It is a sad fact that we have poor schools. These are schools that serve low income students, are underfunded themselves, and are saddled with all the baggage of the worst social problems that plague our youth. What do we do?

Within education, there is extensive dialog, tremendous effort, and massive amounts of research into the fundamental causes of the problems in so-called low performing schools. The coffers of philanthropy have opened to the problems as well. These schools are receiving targeted assistance and microscopic scrutiny. But there’s something else going on.

Schools are not equal. More than that, they are not equitable. On a basic, fundamental level, public schools that primarily serve the children of wealthy people have superior facilities, more diverse learning opportunities, superior academic offerings, and fewer obstacles to instruction. We have schools with endowments and foundations, and others with lock-downs and portables. Why do the children of the wealthy deserve more than other children?

There are legal, geographic, and historical reasons for the inequities in schools, and the inequities in funding. Often, policy-makers throw up their hands at this glaring issue, because the barriers seem so great. Without getting too much into the fine detail, the following is a list of suggestions from one lone philosopher of ways to address the inequities in education from the federal level:

Education Equity-Federal Policy Suggestions:

1) Amend ESEA

a)Require minimum adequate education and facilities in schools

b)Prevent the narrowing or limiting of the curriculum

c)Require states to report on inequities and to address inequities

d)Monitor and assist states from the federal level in addressing inequities

2. Amend the U.S. Constitution: Establish Education as a Civil Right

Education Equity-Federal Policy Suggestions (detail):

Amend The Elementary and Secondary Education Act ESEA (currently also called No Child Left Behind-NCLB) four ways are proposed to amend the next reauthorization:

a)Include language in the bill that establishes the requirement of a minimum adequate education and adequate school facilities for all school age children in states receiving funds under ESEA. The definitions of these terms would be vital, but could include items such as course offerings, athletics, class size, staff to student ratios, individualized assistance, and so on. Such an approach could be similar to H.R.2373 – The Student Bill of Rights (Fattah).
b)Include language in the bill that prevents the limiting of curriculum and educational offerings in schools in states receiving funds under ESEA. Such language could be included in the bill both to clarify the purpose of providing federal funds for education and to prevent the kind of abuses that occurred in response to No Child Left Behind. Under NCLB, schools were rewarded for “gaming the system” by reducing course offerings or redirecting time away from the subjects that were not tested to Mathematics and Language arts. By reducing time spent on PE, science, history, and the arts, schools could show marginal gains in achievement, while depriving students of uncounted and undocumented learning opportunities. This provision could specify that education should be well rounded, and should include a wide variety of subjects for all students, regardless of their language ability, ethnicity, or disability. Such language was circulated in the 110th Congress by Congressman Mike Honda.
c)Establish State Reporting Requirements that will strong-arm states into addressing the inequities in their schools. ESEA requires states to report on all kinds of data about schools, students, teachers, and learning. Why not require in these reports efforts and progress by states on creating equal educational opportunities in their education systems? Such a report could include, for example:

1.The degree of inequity in funding in the state; highest publicly funded schools vs. lowest, as well as average funding levels, etc. Perhaps in coordination with the National Center for Education Statistics or one of these research bodies.

2.The racial and economic makeup of the lowest funded schools and highest funded schools

3.The educational offerings, programs, and facilities in highest and lowest funded schools (is there music, athletic facilities, etc. in low funded schools)

4.The efforts being taken by states to promote equity in both funding and offerings in schools

5.Legislative and legal factors that inhibit implementation of an equitable education system

6.Steps being taken to address the legislative and legal factors

States could then be required to be assessed on whether they are meeting the requirements of pursuing educational equity within their state, and could receive guidance from the fed on how to address these issues- see below.

Create an office of Education Equity in the Department of Education to study and to provide assistance to states to address the inequities in their schools. The office could be responsible for assimilating state data on educational equity, publishing reports on nationwide equity issues, in coordination with other statistical bodies. The office could also act in a capacity to assist states in revising their tax codes, budgets, and education codes in order to implement equitable education in their state.

Amend the U.S. Constitution to establish education as a fundamental civil right to be preserved and maintained by the federal government. This is a ‘hammer of the gods’ approach to addressing a broad variety of issues, while creating a whole new set of problems to deal with. The U.S., in spite of what you may read or hear, does not have a cohesive education system, it has 50 separate ‘systems’ that are often in competition with one another for Federal funds. The Federal government doesn’t coordinate our education system, it herds the United States of cats.

Education is not one of the powers explicitly given to the Federal Government in the U.S. Constitution. Receiving a quality education is not explicitly listed as a fundamental civil right in the bill of rights. Therefore, the obligation to provide education falls to the States, who accept the duty with varying degrees of commitment, and with different priorities. Part of the reason why NLCB was such a catastrophe was because it was an attempt to exert greater authority over the states, who prior to the bill saw the federal role in education as one of benefactor, not overseer.

I would imagine that some states would fight the idea of federal control of education tooth and nail, but I would imagine that some states would be happy to shrug off the burden they’ve neglected for so long.