Archives for category: STEM

A reader who identifies as Democracy challenges John Merrow’s claim that this is the Golden Age of education journalism. He challenges the Education Writers Association’s “public editor,” who wrote about a STEM crisis caused by the low test scores of American students. I would add another point. A nation can be globally competitive and can lead the world without having every person proficient in STEM subjects. I don’t know whether the percentage of scientists, engineers, technicians, and technologists should be 20%, 30% or 40%, but it certainly need not be a majority. Athletes, musicians, philosophers, historians, and artists are probably not expert in STEM subjects. Nor are truck drivers, legislators, governors, and officials of the U.S. Department of Education. Professor Hal Salzman of Rutgers, an expert on labor markets and public policy, has already debunked the idea that there is a shortage of STEM graduates. In fact, he has written, there is a shortage of jobs in the STEM fields, not a shortage of skilled people. Also, Sharon Higgins, an Oakland blogger, wrote a post arguing that there is no STEM crisis, citing credible sources. Journalists should be aware at the very least that not everyone agrees with the reformers’ claim that the sky is falling. There are indeed two sides.



Democracy writes:



John Merrow says that “Education reporting has never been better…”



He’s wrong.



To take but one example, here’s a piece by Emily Richmond, “the public editor of the Education Writers Association.”



This was my comment about that article:



According to Emily Richmond of the Education Writers Association, “just 43 percent of U.S. eighth graders tested met or exceeded the benchmark for proficiency” on the newest NAEP test, the Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment. This is important, Richmond asserts, because “it’s one of the few means of comparing student achievement among states.”



Then Richmond poses this question, answer, and explanation:



“Why does this matter? These are skills that experts say Americans must have if they are to compete in a global marketplace. U.S. students typically have middling performance on international assessments gauging math and science ability.”



The implications are far-ranging. Emily Richmond, a national education reporter, is telling, or at the very least, strongly suggesting to readers that Americans students just can’t cut it – they aren’t “proficient” – and American economic competitiveness in the “global marketplace” is threatened.



This claim is the very same as that made for the necessity of the Common Core State Standards, which were funded by Bill Gates. Interestingly, the Education Writers Association is also funded by Bill Gates, along with conservative groups like the Kern, Dell and Walton Foundations.



But the claim is demonstrably false. America is already competitive in the global marketplace (it’s #3 in the World Economic Forum’s latest competitiveness rankings), and when it loses its competitive edge it’s not because of student test scores but because of stupid economic policies and decisions.



But Emily Richmond says nary a word about this.



Nor does she make any mention at all that there’s a glut of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) jobs in the U.S.



A 2004 RAND study “found no consistent and convincing evidence that the federal government faces current or impending shortages of STEM workers…there is little evidence of such shortages in the past decade or on the horizon.”


A 2007 study by Lowell and Salzman found no STEM shortage (see: ). Indeed, Lowell and Salzman found that “the supply of S&E-qualified graduates is large and ranks among the best internationally. Further, the number of undergraduates completing S&E studies has grown, and the number of S&E graduates remains high by historical standards.” The “education system produces qualified graduates far in excess of demand.”



Beryl Lieff Benderly wrote this stunning statement recently in the Columbia Journalism Review (see: ):
“Leading experts on the STEM workforce, have said for years that the US produces ample numbers of excellent science students. In fact, according to the National Science Board’s authoritative publication Science and Engineering Indicators 2008, the country turns out three times as many STEM degrees as the economy can absorb into jobs related to their majors.”



So why the STEM emphasis?


Benderly continues:



“Simply put, a desire for cheap, skilled labor, within the business world and academia, has fueled assertions—based on flimsy and distorted evidence—that American students lack the interest and ability to pursue careers in science and engineering, and has spurred policies that have flooded the market with foreign STEM workers. This has created a grim reality for the scientific and technical labor force: glutted job markets; few career jobs; low pay, long hours, and dismal job prospects for postdoctoral researchers in university labs; near indentured servitude for holders of temporary work visas.”



As Michael Teitelbaum writes in The Atlantic, “The truth is that there is little credible evidence of the claimed widespread shortages in the U.S. science and engineering workforce.” (



Teitelbaum adds this: “A compelling body of research is now available, from many leading academic researchers and from respected research organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute. No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher…All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more.”



But Emily Richmond says nothing at all about any of this.



Richmond suggests that we should we should worried that “just 43 percent“ of 8th graders met NAEP proficiency levels, as if 8th graders hold the key – somehow – to American economic competitiveness. That supposition alone is pretty baseless. But what about those NAEP proficiency benchmarks?



Here’s how Gerald Bracey described the NAEP proficiency levels in Nov. 2009 in Ed Leadership:



“the NAEP reports the percentage of students reaching various achievement levels—Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. The achievement levels have been roundly criticized by the U.S. Government Accounting Office (1993), the National Academy of Sciences (Pellegrino, Jones, & Mitchell, 1999); and the National Academy of Education (Shepard, 1993). These critiques point out that the methods for constructing the levels are flawed, that the levels demand unreasonably high performance, and that they yield results that are not corroborated by other measures.”



Bracey added this:



“In spite of the criticisms, the U.S. Department of Education permitted the flawed levels to be used until something better was developed. Unfortunately, no one has ever worked on developing anything better—perhaps because the apparently low student performance indicated by the small percentage of test-takers reaching Proficient has proven too politically useful to school critics.”



And then this:



“education reformers and politicians have lamented that only about one-third of 8th graders read at the Proficient level. On the surface, this does seem awful. Yet, if students in other nations took the NAEP, only about one-third of them would also score Proficient—even in the nations scoring highest on international reading comparisons (Rothstein, Jacobsen, & Wilder, 2006).”

The National Academy of Sciences called the NAEP proficiency standards “fundamentally flawed.” NAEP’s original technical evaluation team reported that “these standards and the results obtained from them should under no circumstances be used as a baseline or benchmark.”



NAEP’s governing board fired the team.



The General Accounting Office study of NAEP assumptions and procedures and proficiency levels found them to be “invalid for the purpose of drawing inferences about content mastery.”



Yet, Emily Richmond tells readers that “These are skills that…Americans must have if they are to compete in a global marketplace. “



Richmond makes no effort whatsoever to educate the public – her readers – on how badly flawed NAEP is. Does she just not know?



One thing NAEP seems to measure fairly well is income inequality. Or, to put it a bit more precisely, research has found that between half and two-thirds of the variance in student academic performance on NAEP is explained by a cumulative family risk factor, which includes family income, the educational attainment of parents, family and neighborhood housing conditions, and the ability to speak and read English. Richmond says only that there are “gaps…between students from low-income families and their more affluent peers.”



It’s reasonable to expect that a person leading an Education Writers Association would do a better – more accurate – job of presenting testing information to the general public.



One can hope….

Reader Alice responds to the court victory of VirginiaSGP, who succeeded by lawsuit in getting the ratings of Virginia teachers released and plans to post them on his Facebook page. VirginiaSGP is Brian Davison, apparently an engineer, who believes that these test-based ratings are true measures of teachers’ worth.


Alice comments:


“While I obviously cannot psychoanalyze Brian, I recognizer a lot of a STEM ego in Brian’s diatribes. As a recovering STEM- a-phile, I recognize the inability to recognize that not everything that matters can be numerically measured.


“Dealing with humans rather than machines, or in my case, neutrons, is very different and more complicated. Neutrons follow the laws of quantum physics. Neutrons make no decisions. They are consistent. Humans follow no laws of the physical world. Humans make decisions every moment of every day and those decisions are based on a myriad of factors that are not limited to whether they have eaten that day or gotten enough sleep. None of those factors can be measured and put into a VAM or SGP model.


“Coupled with the STEM ego is a denigration and misunderstanding of social science research. I have done both types of research. STEM research is cleaner. It is elegant and mathematically beautiful. This is the Gates MET study that Brian consistently quotes. Social science research is messy and depends highly on the assumptions made and the model used because all of these focus on a different aspect of humanity. It cannot be anything else and be of any use to educators. But it looks less “rigorous” than STEM research. But those of us in the field know the rigor.”


P-Tech is one of the most celebrated schools in recent years. President Obama hailed it in one of his 2013 State of the Union speech. He and Arne Duncan visited the school and repeatedly praised it as “proof of what can be accomplished” if we have the courage and will to do it. P-Tech was created as a partnership between the New York City Department of Education, IBM, and the City University of New York. I don’t take pleasure in reporting that their praise was premature. I would like to see P-Tech succeed. But it is very annoying when the President and the Secretary of Education go out on a limb to hail success before a school has ever graduated a single student.


Gary Rubinstein reports that P-Tech has been a huge disappointment despite (or perhaps because) of the overpraise it received.


In an earlier post, he says, he noted that only 2% of the students at P-Tech passed the Geometry and Algebra II Regents’ exams. Defenders explained that the pass rate was so low because students in sophomore and junior years were taking the tests for practice.


Now, he writes:


I recently followed up on my P-Tech research and found that New York State has revamped their data page extensively. Now all the data including the number of test takers is all available with a very user friendly interface. The P-Tech state data page can be found here.


I’m focusing on Algebra II since P-Tech is an engineering school where students attend for six years to earn a high school degree and an associates degree and a job offer from IBM. Since Algebra II is taken by advanced 10th graders I figure that P-Tech should be able to get a good percent of their students to eventually pass this test.


The first thing I checked was their 2014 scores last year again. They had 128 students take that test, which went against their claim that they made all their freshmen and sophomores take the test. If that were the case, it should have been about 300 test takers. In 2014 only two students passed that test with a score over 65 and four other students got between a 55 and a 65. Pretty brutal — but not as bad as how they did a year later.


In the most recent Regents administered last June, P-Tech decided to only allow the students who were most likely to pass the test, knowing that making too many unprepared students take the test would affect their passing percent. So last year only 41 students took the Algebra II Regents. Of those 41 students exactly one student passed and one other scored between 55 and 65. That’s it. The 39 other students all failed with scores under a 55.


Rubinstein notes that P-Tech, having received so much hype and praise, is now spreading across the country. Some 40 more P-Techs are in the pipeline in other states and in New York City.


Shouldn’t school officials wait for experiments to prove themselves before they replicate them?






Jimmy Qin, a junior at Seminole High School in Sanford, Florida, received a perfect score on the AP Physics examination. He was one of only two students to earn a perfect score. Nearly 23,000 students took the test.


Seminole is not a magnet school or a charter school. It is a regular public school.


Jimmy is in the International Baccalaureate program at Seminole.


Beyond physics, Jimmy’s interests include politics and economics. His favorite magazines are “The New Yorker”and “The Economist,” while his favorite newspaper is “The New York Times.”


Jimmy also plays the piano and cello. He’s a member of the Florida Young Artists Orchestra, where he is the principal cellist and has performed as a soloist four times.



If it were up to the “reformers” in Florida’s legislature, Seminole High School would not exist anymore. It would have been given away to for-profit charter entrepreneurs and turned into a lucrative real estate deal.

Fareed Zakaria warns that fears about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are greatly overblown.

Zakaria comes close to acknowledging that the “crisis” rhetoric of so-called reformers is a myth,or as Berliner and Biddle called it years ago, “a manufactured crisis.”

The demand fo expand STEM is often accompanied by disdain for liberal education, writes Zakaria:

“If Americans are united in any conviction these days, it is that we urgently need to shift the country’s education toward the teaching of specific, technical skills. Every month, it seems, we hear about our children’s bad test scores in math and science — and about new initiatives from companies, universities or foundations to expand STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and math) and deemphasize the humanities. From President Obama on down, public officials have cautioned against pursuing degrees like art history, which are seen as expensive luxuries in today’s world. Republicans want to go several steps further and defund these kinds of majors. “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?” asked Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott. “I don’t think so.” America’s last bipartisan cause is this: A liberal education is irrelevant, and technical training is the new path forward. It is the only way, we are told, to ensure that Americans survive in an age defined by technology and shaped by global competition. The stakes could not be higher.”

But, he writes, to de-emphasize the humanities would be a huge mistake:

“This dismissal of broad-based learning, however, comes from a fundamental misreading of the facts — and puts America on a dangerously narrow path for the future. The United States has led the world in economic dynamism, innovation and entrepreneurship thanks to exactly the kind of teaching we are now told to defenestrate. A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are English and philosophy. When unveiling a new edition of the iPad, Steve Jobs explained that “it’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

Zakaria then makes a point I have made again and again to those who lament international test scores:

“In truth, though, the United States has never done well on international tests, and they are not good predictors of our national success. Since 1964, when the first such exam was administered to 13-year-olds in 12 countries, America has lagged behind its peers, rarely rising above the middle of the pack and doing particularly poorly in science and math. And yet over these past five decades, that same laggard country has dominated the world of science, technology, research and innovation.”

Sweden and Israel have poor scores on the same tests, yet are high on investment, entrepreneurship, and innovation. There are characteristics that are more important than test scores:

“They are flexible. Their work cultures are non-hierarchical and merit-based. All operate like young countries, with energy and dynamism. All three are open societies, happy to let in the world’s ideas, goods and services. And people in all three nations are confident — a characteristic that can be measured.”

The defining characteristic if a successful society, he concludes, is its ability to hone creativity and critical thinking skills. And for that, both the sciences and liberal arts are necessary.

Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times is one of our most thoughtful commentators on education. He cuts through hype and spin.

Recently he noticed a startling contradiction. a spokesman for QUALCOMM bemoaned the lack of well-prepared workers for STEM jobs. But at the same time, the same high-tech corporation announced that it was cutting its workforce.

He writes:

“Alice Tornquist, a Washington lobbyist for the high-tech firm Qualcomm, took the stage at a recent Qualcomm-underwritten conference to remind her audience that companies like hers face a dire shortage of university graduates in engineering. The urgent remedy she advocated was to raise the cap on visas for foreign-born engineers.

“Although our industry and other high-tech industries have grown exponentially,” Tornquist said, “our immigration system has failed to keep pace.” The nation’s outdated limits and “convoluted green-card process,” she said, had left firms like hers “hampered in hiring the talent that they need.”

“What Tornquist didn’t mention was that Qualcomm may then have had more engineers than it needed: Only a few weeks after her June 2 talk, the San Diego company announced that it would cut its workforce, of whom two-thirds are engineers, by 15%, or nearly 5,000 people.

“The mismatch between Qualcomm’s plea to import more high-tech workers and its efforts to downsize its existing payroll hints at the phoniness of the high-tech sector’s persistent claim of a “shortage” of U.S. graduates in the “STEM” disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

He questions whether there is a shortage of STEM graduates, or whether the tech industries are looking to import cheap workers.

The industry claims shortages and highlights national security concerns, but the facts are complex. “”If you can make the case that our security and prosperity is under threat, it’s an easy sell in Congress and the media,” says Michael Teitelbaum, a demographer at Harvard Law School and author of the 2014 book “Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent,” which challenges claims of a STEM shortage in the U.S.

“Despite its “cost-cutting initiative,” a company spokesperson says, Qualcomm “continues to have open positions in specific areas, and still faces a “‘skills deficit’ in all areas of today’s workforce, especially engineering.”

Hiltzik adds:

“The industry’s push for more visas glosses over other issues. As we’ve reported, the majority of H-1B visas go not to marquee high-tech companies such as Google and Microsoft, but to outsourcing firms including the India-based giants Infosys and Tata. They’re not recruiting elite STEM graduates with unique skills, but contract workers to replace American technical employees — who often are required to train their foreign-born replacement as a condition of receiving their severance. This is the scandalous method of cost-cutting used by companies such as Southern California Edison, which outsourced the jobs of some 500 information technology employees, as we reported in February.”

Unbelievable. Microsoft lays off 18,000 workers while pressing Congress to expand the number of visas for engineers, mathematicians, scientists, and other workers. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and casino operator Sheldon Adelson wrote an article calling for Congressional action to increase H-1B visas.

Senator Jeff Sessions responded with rage, directed mainly at Gates and at the the tech industry as a whole. He said: “”What did we see in the newspaper today?” said Sessions, “News from Microsoft. Was it that they are having to raise wages to try to get enough good, quality engineers to do the work? Are they expanding or are they hiring? No, that is not what the news was, unfortunately. Not at all.”

Sessions said:

“What is the situation today for American graduates of STEM degrees and technology degrees?” said Session. “Do we have enough? And do we need to have people come to our country to take those jobs? Or, indeed, do we not have a shortage of workers, and do we have difficulty of people finding jobs?”

“Sessions recently sponsored a forum that assembled some of the leading academic critics of the H-1B program. The group assessed the consequences of hiking the H-1B cap from 85,000 to 180,000, as proposed in the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill.

“They warned of increasing age discrimination since most of these foreign workers are young, as well as make it harder for U.S. STEM graduates to find work. A cap hike could hurt wages as well. Critics say schools now produce many more STEM graduates than there are jobs for them.

“Microsoft wasn’t the only company to get in Sessions’ crosshairs. He cited a letter by more than 100 large corporations sent to Congress late last year, urging immigration reform. The signees included many companies, such as Hewlett-Packard and Cisco, which have had recent layoffs.

“And just as it is not always true what is good for General Motors is good for America, likewise, what may be good for Mr. Adelson and Mr. Microsoft and Mr. Buffett is not always in accord with what is good for the American people. I know that. They are free to express their opinion, but I am going to push back,” said Sessions.

*****please note

Strange things happen in Los Angeles. Maybe all that nonstop good weather rattles people.

High school science teacher Greg Schiller was suspended after an administrator concluded that science projects made by two of his students were dangerous.

Schiller has now been allowed to return to his classroom.

“Both projects overseen by teacher Greg Schiller were capable of launching small objects. A staff member at the downtown Cortines School of Visual & Performing Arts had raised concerns about one of them. Both are common in science fairs.

“I am very excited to be back with my students and help them prepare for the Advanced Placement tests, which are a week away,” Schiller said Thursday. “We have a lot of work ahead of ourselves.”

Schiller teaches AP Biology and AP Psychology. He also coaches the fencing team, which had to miss a major competition due to his suspension.

Has anyone considered checking the credentials of the administrator who removed him?

Oh my heavens!

I can’t believe it.

Creationism survives.

Science teachers, get involved.

Indiana teachers and parents and citizens: aren’t you glad Glenda Ritz will be state commissioner of education next year?

From a newspaper in Indiana:

A lengthy column today in the Lafayette Journal-Courier, by David Bangert, is headed “The evolution of Gov. Pence starts here; another creation science bill looms: An old fight over science will get a new look in 2013.”

A sample:

Indiana will have another discussion in the 2013 General Assembly session about how evolution is taught in the state’s science classrooms.

Same issue, new approach

“We’re going to try something a little different this time,” state Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said this week.
Kruse was behind last session’s Senate Bill 89. In its original form, the bill offered to give local school boards the option to “require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science.”

Though not all prone to focus on the merits of sticking with the scientific method in science classrooms, senators were moved to water down the bill largely because of the presumed price tag. Creation science — even offered as a school board choice rather than a state mandate — adds up to a losing church-and-state proposition in the high courts. Rulings have been clear, not to mention expensive: Teaching creation science and intelligent design in public schools amounts to pushing religion, not science. And that crosses the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

A compromised SB89 that made it through the state Senate allowed schools to add courses that looked at the origin of life, provided they included theories from multiple religions. Considering that school districts already could do that with their non-science elective courses, the Indiana House took a pass.

This year, Kruse said, he’ll carry a bill designed by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based public policy think tank. According to its website, the Discovery Institute “seeks to counter the materialistic interpretation of science by demonstrating that life and the universe are the products of intelligent design and by challenging the materialistic conception of a self-existent, self-organizing universe and the Darwinian view that life developed through a blind and purposeless process.”

More from the story:

Louisiana has had a similar law since 2008. Tennessee followed suit in 2012. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam declined to sign it, saying it would bring confusion instead of clarity, according to the Tennesseean news­paper in Nashville. Civil libertarians, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association and members of the National Academy of Sciences warned about what came to be called the “monkey bill,” named for the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial that went after a Tennessee teacher who dared to teach evolution against state laws at the time.

Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, told Nature magazine that the law was simply a “permission slip for teachers to bring creationism, climate-change denial and other non-science into science classrooms.”

The law took effect in April without the governor’s signature.

How many times have we heard the President, the Secretary of Education, and leaders of corporate America tell us that we must produce more scientists? That there are thousands of jobs unfilled because we don’t have qualified college graduates to fill them? That our future depends on pumping billions into STEM education?

I always believe them. Science, engineering, technology and mathematics are fields critical for the future.

But why then, according to an article in the Washington Post, are well-educated scientists unable to find jobs?

Three years ago, USA Today reported  high unemployment among scientists and engineers.

Some experts in science say there is no shortage of scientists, but there is a shortage of good jobs for scientists.

Some say that the pool of qualified graduates in science and engineering is “several times larger” than the pool of jobs available for them. And here is a shocker: The quality of STEM education has NOT declined:

Despite this nearly universal support for upgrading science and math education, our review of the data leads us to conclude that, while the educational pipeline would benefit from improvements, it is not as dysfunctional as believed. Today’s American high school students actually test as well or better than students two decades ago. Further, today’s students take more science and math classes, and a large number of students with strong science and math backgrounds graduate from U.S. high schools and start college in S&E fields of study. 

Why don’t our leaders tell us the truth? Why don’t they tell us that many of our highly trained young people will not find good jobs in research labs or universities or anywhere else?

I have said before on this blog that the economy is changing in ways that no one understands, least of all me.

Over the past century, whenever reformers told the schools to prepare students for this career or that vocation, the policymakers and school leaders were woefully inadequate at predicting which jobs would be available ten years later. When the automobile was first invented, there were still plenty of students taking courses to prepare them to be blacksmiths. The same story could be repeated over the years. We are not good at prognosticating.

My own predilection is to believe that all young people should get a full and rounded general education, which will teach them to think and evaluate new information. I prefer an education that includes the usual range of disciplines, not because of tradition but because each of them is valuable for our lives. We don’t know what the future will bring, but we all need to learn the skills of reading, writing, and mathematics. We don’t know what jobs will be available in ten or twenty years, but we all need to study history, so that we possess knowledge of our society and others; we need an understanding of science so we know how the world works; we need to be involved in the arts, because it is an expression of the human spirit and enables us to think deeply about ourselves and our world. I could make the same claims for other disciplines. The claim must be based on enduring needs, not the needs of the job market, because the only certainty is that the  job market will be different in the future.