Where does California’s STEM workforce come from? Not US schools

California is the land of high tech innovation, but according to the San Francisco area based Mercury News, “Immigrants are 42 percent of California’s STEM workforce.”

If you have not kept up with education fad acronyms, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in other words, all the “stuff” that high tech comes from. And, the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area is the techiest place in the country.

This has some very disturbing implications for K to 12 education in the US. How come such a high percentage of our nation’s STEM innovators don’t come from our own school systems? Why do our colleges and high tech industries have to search overseas to find employees with the math and science skills needed to get the work done?

And, when our current education system says it is all about increasing STEM preparedness and then goes and adopts less than world class standards like Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards (which don’t even teach kids about electric circuits, for goodness sakes!), is it likely the low numbers of US native born citizens in STEM careers is likely to improve soon?

Electrocution Cartoon

By the way, in Singapore they start teaching electric circuits as early as preschool! Here, our education science folks don’t think electric circuits are worth coverage at any school level.

No wonder so many STEM folks in the US don’t come from here.

Why are teens going to school so early?

Alison Ross, a top-notch education reporter at the Courier-Journal, raises a question in “Why are teens going to school so early? Research shows educators may need a wake-up call” that has interested me, too. Research has been accumulating for some time that shows the average teen’s bio clock isn’t well aligned to the standard school hours set by adults.

Ross goes through the pros and cons of making school hours more suitable for teens in considerable detail. Along the way, she points to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association among others that says the current school start time in many Kentucky high schools isn’t set properly for optimal teen functioning. In fact the early start hours might actually be downright harmful.

So, why isn’t our school system reacting to this research? Some reasons were offered to Ross, but it seems like this is mostly more about convenience for adults and resistance to any change rather than doing what is best for students. And, with some researchers like Kyla Wahlstrom, a senior research fellow at the University of Minnesota, declaring this is actually a public health crisis, it seems like more serious attention is needed though little seems to be happening.

So much for our schools being data-driven. Ditto for putting student needs first.

Grade inflation: We’re not the only ones seeing it

In “A’s on the rise in U.S. report cards, but SAT scores founder,” USA Today reporter Greg Toppo discusses how trends in high school grades and SAT scores show grading in the country is getting inflated.

This isn’t news to us, of course. In fact, we talked back in February about research from the Kentucky Department of Education that shows grading is even getting unevenly biased according to students’ race.

This is why efforts in some places to drop ACT or SAT as part of the college entrance process continue to make no sense to us.

Is there a backlash growing over Kentucky’s proposed school accountability system?

Unbridled Learning, Kentucky’s current public-school assessment and accountability system, is on the way out, and Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt and the Kentucky Department of Education have been working on an as-yet unnamed replacement accountability system for some time. Pruitt and his team have held two sets of public hearings seeking Kentuckians’ input into the new program and he formed several advisory committees to further develop ideas for the new system.

Now, a proposed system is starting to take form. The Kentucky Board of Education took its first formal look at the proposal in June, and a follow-up discussion is expected during the board’s August meeting.

Surprisingly, amid this movement toward finalizing Kentucky’s new accountability program – which, by law, must be submitted to Washington, DC for approval by mid-September – a curious letter appeared last week, co-signed by leaders of several organizations including the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, who were members of one of Pruitt’s key advisory committees.

It almost seems like the letter is, to use technical lingo, a minority dissenting report.

[Read more…]

Is this good??? ‘Hanover College is latest to not require SAT, ACT’

The Courier-Journal echoes a report from its sister paper, the Indianapolis Star, that another college in this country will no longer require applicants to take either the ACT or SAT college entrance tests. According to the article:

“Hanover College in Southern Indiana will join nearly 1,000 public and private accredited institutions across the nation that have opted for a ‘test optional’ or ‘test flexible’ admissions policy.”

While this will probably reduce student anxiety in a teen population that increasingly seems stressed (think suicides, for example), are there possible shortcomings in colleges dropping such testing from their admissions policies?

We at BIPPS think there are some problems, and we have information to back up our concerns.

[Read more…]

Commissioner Pruitt: What happens now that Unbridled Learning is ending?

During yesterday’s meeting of the Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt made it very clear that Unbridled Learning, Kentucky’s Common Core era assessment and accountability program, has been ended by Senate Bill 1 from the 2017 Regular Legislative Session.

So, what comes next? The new assessment and accountability program won’t be online until the 2018-19 school term.

Pruitt indicated that for the coming school term, school test scores will still be reported, but schools won’t get accountability “labels” like Distinguished or Proficient. There won’t be any additions to the Priority Schools roster, either.

Hear exactly what the commissioner said in this recording.

Of particular note, the demise of Unbridled Learning marks the third time since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 was passed that attempts to create a vibrant and credible school assessment and accountability program has foundered in Kentucky.

The big question: Will the attempt under way now to come up with a fourth program work much better?

Don’t forget, while Kentucky’s educators have continually been unable to create a lasting system, thousands of our students have continued to be left behind. We don’t need more experiments – we need a real, working program.

Kentucky’s education commissioner starting to sound like us about high school graduation statistics

The Bluegrass Institute has been raising strong, evidence-based concerns about the quality of Kentucky’s standard high school diploma for well over half a decade.

Our concerns about possible inflation in Kentucky’s high school graduation rates stretch back at least to 2010 when we compared the state’s claimed graduation rates to much lower rates being reported by Education Week.

By August 2012 we were discussing how the state was passing out regular but “Hollow Diplomas” to students with learning disabilities who could not read.

By January 2015 our concerns intensified. By this time we were using much more compelling data, comparing Kentucky’s official high school graduation rates to other official state data that showed only a moderate proportion of those graduates were able to meet even one of the state’s various ways to determine readiness for either college or for a career. Also in 2015 we also began to use another method to show that students were getting diplomas although their academic preparation didn’t seem to meet official requirements. This time, we compared the proficiency rates on the state’s Algebra II End-of-Course Exams to the graduation rates. Kentucky Regulation 704 KAR 3:305 stipulates that competency in Algebra II is a high school graduation requirement, so you would expect reasonable agreement between graduation rates and the Algebra II EOC Exam proficiency rates. But, we didn’t find that.

We also updated our examination of graduation rates versus the state’s official college and/or career ready rates in 2015, finding just as much cause for concern as we had in earlier studies. We found disparities in the amount of social promotion to diplomas based on racial differences, as well. For example, this topic was covered on pages 13 to 18 in our report, “Blacks Continue Falling Through Gaps in Louisville’s Schools, The 2016 Update.”

What’s new today is that Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt is starting to raise similar concerns about what really stands behind the current award of high school diplomas in the Bluegrass State. Speaking to the Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education today, Pruitt said:

“There are a lot of things about our graduation requirements that are good, but one could very easily question do we actually know if every kid is actually meeting all those requirements, and are they the right requirements?”

Pruitt promised action to come concerning the issue of diploma quality, and we are glad he is getting on board with this program.

Hear some of the commissioner’s comments in this short recording.

Union chief’s example of public school innovation flunks

On July fourth the National Public Radio affiliate at Western Kentucky University published a highly ironic article, “Charter School Concerns Voiced by KEA President.” Hopefully, our students are learning better ways of providing supporting examples than the one Stephanie Winkler, the head of the Kentucky Education Association, stumbled over in her interview.

Trying to counter the pressing need for charter schools in Kentucky, the article says Winkler claims that “public schools have the ability to get creative and tackle difficult education issues.” Winkler then offered Jefferson County schools as an example.

How ridiculous!

Only very recently, Jefferson County Public Schools gave up on its “School of Innovation” project in the Maupin Elementary School. The dysfunction in this school, which was supposed to be a high model of reform, was so severe that it is now listed as a “Priority School.” The crash of innovation was so loud at Maupin that even its School Based Decision Making Council (SBDM) lost its governance authority. By the way, the SBDM undoubtedly was controlled by some of Winkler’s union members because, by law, teachers hold the controlling vote in every one of the state’s school councils.

Even the chair of the Jefferson County Board of Education admitted that poor district leadership was a key player in the Maupin fiasco.

[Read more…]

Trio of US Supreme Court cases point to expanded school choice options

It has been a busy week for the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), and school choice decisions were definitely a part of the docket.

Regarding the first decision, the Washington Post reports that SCOTUS ruled in a rather amazing 7-2 decision that the state of Missouri erred in denying funding to a church school for playground safety equipment. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. ruled that “…the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”

The Trinity Lutheran school ruling particularly raises eyebrows because it nibbles away at provisions in a number of state constitutions that prohibit providing public funding to private religious schools. The SCOTUS ruling signals those state restrictions might run afoul of the US Constitution.

By the way, these state constitutional provisions, often referred to as “Blaine Amendments,” were instituted in the late 1800’s as an attack on the growing presence of Catholic schools in the US. Kentucky is one of the states with Blaine language in its constitution, making the SCOTUS ruling of particular interest in the commonwealth.

While important, the Trinity ruling was regarded by the Washington Post and others as a narrow one that might not, by itself, signal a major challenge to Blaine Amendments in general might be in the offing.

That is why two more SCOTUS decisions, based in part on the Trinity Lutheran case, are especially important.

In the first of those actions, SCOTUS told the Colorado Supreme Court to reconsider a 2015 decision that a voucher program in the Douglas County schools in that state was unconstitutional. That Colorado ruling was based on Blaine language in that state’s constitution.

Finally, yet another case from Arizona fleshes out what seems to be friendliness in SCOTUS for issues favoring school choice interests. In this one, the New Mexico Supreme Court was told to review its decision to deny textbook funding to private schools, including religious schools. The Albuquerque Journal reports:

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion directs New Mexico justices to reconsider the textbook funding case in light of the Missouri playground case, in which justices decided it is unconstitutional to ban public funds from paying for certain projects at religious schools based solely on the schools’ private or religious status.”

The Journal additionally reports:

“’States are getting a clear message from the Supreme Court: They can’t exclude people from participating in government programs because of their religion,’ said Eric Baxter, senior counsel at Becket, the nonprofit law firm that represented the New Mexico Association of Nonpublic Schools.”

There also are some vague reports that SCOTUS told two other states with cases similar to those in New Mexico and Colorado to review their Blaine-based rulings, but we have not discovered details.

Overall, this has been a very important week for school choice supporters. While some would like the Trinity Lutheran decision to be considered only a very narrow ruling, the additional SCOTUS actions this week in the New Mexico and Colorado cases indicate the US Supreme Court actually has other ideas. Given the Trinity case’s virtually immediate fallout in Colorado and New Mexico, the overall implications of this week’s SCOTUS activities could have major implications for the constitutionality of the anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments that might result in greatly expanded opportunities for more school choice.

Education reform: Beware of experts

As Kentucky gets ready to launch yet another assessment and accountability system worked around yet another major education law from Washington, the Every Student Succeeds Act, we are hearing hearing once more about how “Research Shows” this or that education idea works.

But, we can’t help thinking – again – that there is a TON of research on education out there; however, a great deal of it doesn’t pass even minimal requirements for rigor.

Certainly, as we have discussed before, the generally dubious nature of education research is a message found in Arthur Levine’s very interesting reports about Educating School Teachers and, most especially, Educating Researchers. As a past president of Columbia Teachers College in New York, Levine has enjoyed a better vantage point than most to make such observations.

And, Levine isn’t alone with his concerns, either.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess just provided his timely cautions about education experts in this short, 1-minute video. It’s worth a viewing.