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Topic: "MSPnet Academy: Finding Common Ground: A Taxonomy for Identifying and Describing STEM Schools"

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MSPnet Academy Discussion
July 28th - August 11th, 2015


Overview: In 2013, the National Research Council published "Monitoring Progress Toward Successful K-12 STEM Education: A Nation Advancing?" That report includes 14 indicators for tracking the nations progress and called for a national-level monitoring and reporting system to measure them. In an effort to move towards such a system, the National Science Foundation funded efforts to conduct exploratory work and lay the foundation for the development of measures of the 14 indicators.

This webinar is sharing work focused on the first of those indicators: Number of, and enrollment in STEM-focused schools and programs in each district. Presenters will share their developing work-- a STEM School taxonomy-- that is designed to enable the STEM education community to communicate with one another about STEM schools clearly, and about STEM School research in ways that will support knowledge accumulation. Participants will be invited to provide input on the developing work..

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What should the "lowest bar" be?

posted by: Jeanne Century on 7/28/2015 3:18 pm

As we talked about in the webinar, all students in the US deserve a high quality STEM education program. And, STEM schools should provide "more" than that - after all, that is what makes them STEM schools.

We have taken the position that even one course more (at the middle or high school level) or some number more of minutes or additional classes at an elementary level would count as making the school "over the bar." This seems like a pretty low bar. At the same time, practitioners know that finding time in schedules for an additional engineering course (for example) or an extra 30 minutes of science and requiring all students to participate is not trivial. What are your thoughts about the low bar?

programs vs schools

posted by: Thomas Keller on 8/7/2015 1:12 pm

Hi, Jeanne:

Thanks to you and your colleagues for bringing some organization to this.

The "more" question leads me down a similar path - did you say that a STEM program vs a STEM school is that a program does not require all of the kids to participate but a school does?

I guess the low bar has to be the minimum the state requires (which would limit it to high schools in my state since there are no allocations in earlier grades).

But here is another thorn - we are heading into proficiency-based high school graduation. Schools that have lined up more AP courses (and there are several such schools) must somehow as well have their students demonstrate proficiency in science and technology, math, and the 6 other subjects our state standards define. AP courses do not always provide instruction to meet state standards. How will we know what 'going above the bar' means in a standards-based reporting system?

Re: Programs vs. schools

posted by: Jeanne Century on 8/8/2015 12:59 pm

Hi Tom - first, on programs versus schools. Yes, the primary distinction we make between a STEM school and a STEM program is that a STEM school asks students to do "more" (that is the question about where the bar is - more than what) AND requires all students in the school to do it.

For example, sometimes when we discuss the taxonomy with people they bring up the well-resourced suburban school that offers many different STEM courses of all sorts - they ask - just because it offers all of the courses, does that make it a STEM school? The answer is no - UNLESS, they require all students in the school to enroll in those courses. At the other end of the spectrum - consider a poorly resourced schools that offers only the state minimum requirements except, they also offer AP calculus. If the school requires all students in the school to take AP calculus, then, they would be over (though just barely) the low bar and qualify as a STEM school.

Some would argue that that bar is too low; others would note that requiring all students in a poorly resourced school with a history of poor opportunity to require ALL students to take AP calculus is not trivial at all.

Regarding using the state requirement as the low bar - that gets at one of our thorny issues - states have different requirements. Given that the charge of this project is to arrive at an approach that will work nationally, how do we reconcile that? So far, we've decided that our work can serve both, a local and national purpose. So, you can use your state requirements as a foundation within your state; or a district can use even more locally derived criteria. It is the question of what we do nationally that is more challenging.

As for the proficiency based question - it sounds like you are getting at an "input" versus "output" question. We are working to define an input - proficiency - by definition is an output. The extent to which students demonstrate proficiency in STEM subjects doesn't determine whether a school is a STEM school - but rather whether it is a GOOD (by those criteria) STEM school. But you seem to be getting at something more in your comments - something having to do with having enough space in the student day/schedule to do the "more" and everything else they need to do - maybe you could say more about that?

Thanks for your thoughts - Jeanne

AP makes me want to cry

posted by: Louise Wilson on 8/9/2015 10:30 pm

A poorly resourced school becomes a STEM school by requiring every student to take AP Calc. regardless of the outcomes. So the poorly resourced school sends $50 a student out to AP, so that students who are not fluent in basic Algebra can get a 1 on the AP test, which in itself does not even cover the material now covered in modern calculus courses in college. A poorly resourced school would be better off using this $50 for pencils for students, access to Mathematica, Maple or Matlab for the year, or even after school tutoring, any of which would actually help students improve their STEM skills. No wonder so many prospective engineering students drop out in their first year of university work.
AP and the measurement of students by AP test-taking is a huge financial scam that's being supported by so many institutions. Students would be better supported by taking college level courses at college. Most high schools can support this route, but choose not to use it because they are then ranked as worse than the schools participating in the AP charade.

Engaging in STEM

posted by: Betsy Stefany on 8/10/2015 9:14 am

Your point is well taken and supports the concept that a focus on k-8 STEM would ease the pressure of dynamic changes of high school teacher skills, content and outcomes required to define a district as STEM.

By high school the pipeline has already leaked so heavily that the AP focus is the way to demo a schools caliber of offerings and ability to attract students into courses that are at least in name related to college current expectations. Through MSP funds for teacher at a lower grade level, we can both create a lasting fellowship between teachers as cohorts, using existing programs and we can follow the child through the system, reaching high school better prepared to access existing independent programs and create their own projects.
The teaming to form cohorts concept scaffolds the connection with after school time and interests at an appropriate developmental level, engaging the community in positive support sooner rather than later.

Share your Concern

posted by: Jeanne Century on 8/10/2015 12:17 pm

Hi Louise -

Yes, I share your worry. Perhaps I should have picked a different example - I didn't intend to put it out as an exemplar. Let's take your example - let's say that a poorly resourced school did only the minimum except it had an extended day program in which all students used all of the resources you suggest AND required ALL students to participate. Or, had an additional mathematics class focused on building and strengthening mathematics skills AND required all students to take it. By the design of the taxonomy, that school would qualify as a STEM school as much as the school that offered a single AP course.

A reminder, the taxonomy isn't setting out to say what a QUALITY STEM school is - rather, that is left to the field to establish evidence that demonstrates what is and is not a quality STEM school - and, we fully expect the taxonomy will evolve over time to simply exclude those schools that aren't producing the outcomes we seek. So, in theory, you could have one school that was considered "STEM" due to requiring AP and another that was "STEM" because it required another course that used all of the resources you name - then you can compare them and establish evidence that one is accomplishing a particular outcome and one isn't.

Hope this helps explain how we think about the taxonomy as helping define the "input" side of the equation, not the "output" side. Once we accumulate findings, evidence, expert experience with different kinds of STEM schools, as a field we can begin to raise the bar (which is now very low) as to what we as a field will and won't accept as a STEM school.

STEM Schools

posted by: Nancy Shapiro on 8/11/2015 8:36 am

Jeanne, et al
I find this discussion fascinating and important. STEM schools, like "early college," are exciting and innovative ideas that have attracted the attention of policy makers and pundits, but many who throw the ideas around don't understand how hard they are to implement...well. I keep waiting for more discussion of integrating the Next Gen Science Standards into this conversation. The "quality" is in the Next Gen standards; they provide an integrated--even cross disciplinary--approach to science, which is one of the best things STEM schools have going for themselves.
With all the attention to Common Core, Next Gen is not nearly as frequently referenced. I'd like to hear some comments about how the STEM schools taxonomy can raise the visibility and implementation of the Next Gen standards.
thanks for this work!

Role of Standards in STEM Schools

posted by: Jeanne Century on 8/11/2015 11:46 am

Hi Nancy -

You bring up a very interesting point for us - which is that reference and attention to NGSS (and CCSS for that matter) just hasn't been prevalent in our conversations with STEM School leaders. I (and I'm sure you and other readers) can come up with many reasons for this including these speculations - the standards are too far removed from day-to-day school operations; standards are assumed to be part of what they would call "rigorous instruction,"; NGSS standards are still at the relative beginning of establishing visibility. Not sure - until we really investigate this.

As for the role of the taxonomy and its relationship to standards, particularly NGSS, you are suggesting a very sensible starting point for the conversation about quality; we hadn't yet gotten to a point of digging into how to establish (and then, in the longer term, measure) what the standard of quality is - except to assume that it would have to involve (obviously) desired outcomes. So, on a national level, it seems as though NGSS (along with CCSS) is a sensible place to start. I'd be interested in others' thoughts on this as well - thanks!