Learning Through Research

2012 Vital Signs Report

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Change the Equation Hosts Event to Showcase Release of Vital Signs Report

Prepared by:
Washington Partners (wpllc@cur.org)
September 20, 2012
Last week, the corporate nonprofit organization Change the Equation (CTEq) hosted a luncheon briefing and panel discussion at Microsoft’s Washington DC offices to highlight the release of its annual report on the status of STEM education across the country. Touted as the "most comprehensive and reliable picture of STEM," 2012 Vital Signs is the product of a dedicated effort to provide a detailed 50-state analysis of factors shaping the STEM landscape, from test scores and teacher competence to afterschool programs and college-level investments. Using a wide range of federal, state and independent data sources with expertise from the American Institutes of Research (AIR), the report is aimed at informing education stakeholders, including policymakers, school administrators, educators, and business interests dependent on the next generation of scientific talent. Many of those stakeholders were represented at the briefing, which featured Microsoft Vice President of Government Relations Frederick Humphries, Change the Equation CEO Linda Rosen and COO Claus von Zastrow, as well as Carolyn Landel of the nonprofit state STEM education network, Washington STEM, and Gene Wilhoit of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Introductory remarks by Mr. Humphries and Dr. Rosen focused on the value of the report as a data tool and the importance of STEM improvement to economic prospects, while the panel discussion proceeded as a commentary on the Vital Signs report that saw each participant share their perspective on the findings and field questions from the audience. Dr. von Zastrow talked about the pros and cons of the methodology behind several metrics included in the report, while Dr. Landel discussed how the report can be used to improve STEM policy engagement on the state level; Mr. Wilhoit shared what school authorities’ reform priorities should be in light of its findings.
Introductory Remarks
  • Frederick Humphries, Vice President of Government Relations, Microsoft
  • Dr. Linda Rosen, Chief Executive Officer, Change the Equation
Panel Discussion
  • Dr. Claus von Zastrow, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Research, Change the Equation
  • Dr. Carolyn Landel, Chief Program Officer, Washington STEM
  • Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director, Council of Chief State School Officers
Frederick Humphries, Microsoft
Mr. Humphries opened the event with a brief introduction describing the importance of sound data to Microsoft and the tech industry at large, repeating a quote from the statistician W. Edwards Deming (also cited in Vital Signs promotional materials): "In God we trust. All others bring data." For Microsoft and other high-profile corporate contributors to CTEq, the value of the Vital Signs effort is found in the quantity and quality of the statistics it brings to bear on the STEM issue. Such data equips stakeholders with the best possible understanding of both recent successes and persistent challenges on the STEM front, and allows for the development of evidence-based strategies to address the latter. Mr. Humphries also reiterated how essential a better system scientific education that produces more STEM professionals is to tech firms and the American economy as a whole.
Linda Rosen, Change the Equation
Dr. Rosen followed Mr. Humphries with an introduction of her own intended to showcase CTEq‟s "excitement" at the release of the report and its value to the STEM policy community. As "the most extensive report thus far," 2012 Vital Signs is actually "a collection of 51 reports" (one from each state plus the District of Columbia) and several subject-matter briefs which will serve as tools to complement the efforts of STEM advocates at all levels. Dr. Rosen noted how the release of the numbers-heavy report underscores an "inspiring movement toward data-centricity" on the part of stakeholders that she predicts will lead to greater uniformity in how school systems approach STEM learning. Currently, "radically different" sets of requirements, test standards, policy prescriptions and quality enforcement mechanisms control how students learn science from one state to the next, to the extent that "now „proficiency‟ may have more to do with where you live than what you have learned." This system cannot produce enough qualified graduates in STEM fields to meet demand, which is high and growing despite the recession—while only one job is open for 3.5 job seekers nationwide, among STEM fields, the ratio is 2-1 (or better in some states). Dr. Rosen then shared revealing state data from the "interactive map" posted on CTEq‟s website. Each state report is broken down into sections with statistics on "demand," "pipeline," "expectations," "challenging content," "teachers" and "resources"; a "recommendations" section is also included with policy advice tailored to conditions in that state.
Claus von Zastrow, Change the Equation
Following remarks from Humphries and Rosen, Dr. von Zastrow began the panel discussion by picking up where Dr. Rosen left off, continuing to highlight the findings of the report. These included new state-level metrics on STEM job opportunities and educational access at the K-12 and post-secondary levels, along with previously unpublished data that shows 19% of American households have children enrolled in afterschool or out-of-school STEM programs. Responding to audience questions about the afterschool data, Dr. von Zastrow explained CTEq’s work with Nielsen Company in conducting surveys but admitted methodological flaws related to the diversity of afterschool programing, which is "difficult to standardize on surveys" because some programs are undoubtedly more rigorous and science-centric than others. However, given that CTEq’s member companies "actually put more money into out-of-school programs than in-school programs," he expressed confidence that the new data represented an important starting point for further investigations. Dr. von Zastrow also highlighted CTEq’s online "custom reports" tool that allows researchers to compare data from states and topic sections of their choice side-by-side, and discussed the value of STEM education’s "incredible return on investment" in general terms.
Carolyn Landel, Washington STEM
Carolyn Landel continued the discussion by describing her work as Chief Program Officer with Washington STEM, a Seattle-based nonprofit that partners with a number of national and regional philanthropic organizations to direct resources toward "advancing equity, excellence, and innovation in STEM education" within the state. Dr. Landel presented Washington as a model for how actors in the political, corporate, and academic worlds can come together with a commitment to improving STEM outcomes; Vital Signs reports that "to its credit, Washington stretches its math and science dollars farther than other states do." Key to the state’s (relative) success has been a concerted effort to build and maintain local advocacy networks that keep decision makers constantly engaged and informed with the best available data. These networked groups have been jump-started by dozens of strategic "portfolio investment" and "entrepreneur investment" awards in target schools that have highly specific goals (i.e. a robotics afterschool program, a local girls-in-biology project or a new middle school math assessment) and emphasize accountability. To this end, Dr. Landel considers CTEq’s work "holistic and meaningful," as well as "an asset to all of us…that helps spur new ideas." She also described Washington STEM’s ongoing work on STEM education programs that forge partnerships across state lines.
Gene Wilhoit, Council of Chief State School Officers
Mr. Wilhoit continued the discussion by drawing on his experience as a head of two state departments of education (in Arkansas and Kentucky) to put the Vital Signs findings in the context of SEA agendas. In his view, STEM policy has historically been "a lot of noise, but not a lot of reform." However, the trend away from a federal monopoly on commitment and toward genuine state-level innovation represented by widespread adoption of the Common Core Standards, coupled with increasing attention to the "data-centric" evidence described by Dr. Rosen means real progress could finally be at hand. Such progress will require a "heavy lift" on the part of state actors to embrace stricter standards and new assessment models based on "expectations of mastery" that will inevitably show what looks like a decline in the number of proficient students, particularly in math. Mr. Wilhoit also remarked on the importance of Vital Signs metrics that highlight deficiencies in teacher effectiveness and teachers’ knowledge of STEM subject matter across the country, which points to the need for better professional development programs in the sciences.
The briefing concluded with Dr. Rosen thanking the panelists for their insights and the audience for attending. She reminded everyone that the full cache of state data could be found in the Vital Signs section of the CTEq website, link provided below: http://vitalsigns.changetheequation.org/