Do Gender-Based Toys Keep Girls Out of STEM?

Some Michigan lawmakers want fast food restaurants to stop giving gender-based toys.
Photo credit: Brian Charles Watson (CC-By-SA 3.0)

This is a little outside the purview of what I typically write, but I wanted to address an article I read today that is education-related. 

As you all know with the shift to workforce development with its hyper-emphasize on STEM there is a push to direct more toward STEM fields. In my home state of Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds had headed an initiative to expose more girls to STEM. 

I’m not a fan of the over-emphasis on STEM or the shift to workforce development, but don’t have a problem with engaging girls to think about STEM careers. The issue for me is how it has replaced classical education for all students.

That said, this push for girls in STEM took a ludicrous turn when Michigan lawmakers used this as an excuse in a move to encourage fast food chains to stop providing gender-based toys.

From Fox News:

Receiving a free children’s toy at Michigan fast-food joints may soon require restaurants to ask the kids which ones they’d prefer, at least if lawmakers successfully go through with a petition to stop “gender classification” of kids’ meal toys at fast-food franchisees.

Earlier this week, the state House of Representatives introduced a motion requesting that chains stop offering “boy toys” and “girl toys” on the grounds that such classifications “limit children’s imagination,” going so far as to argue that such restrictions can prevent young girls from taking an interest in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, KWCH reports.

Instead, the lawmakers want children to be offered a “choice” of toy without traditional gender labels.

I could comment further on the non-education implications of this legislation, but that wouldn’t be appropriate here. For now, they are pushing a resolution encouraging fast food chains to act on their own volition. Could it be forced later on? I would not be surprised. 

Out of all of the problems Michigan faces this is what some lawmakers want to spend their time on?

Frankly, if a fast food chain wants to stop giving toys like this away I could not care less (in fact I thought most already did, but my kids are way past the Happy Meal age so I don’t know for certain). Using STEM as an excuse is nonsense. There are a variety of reasons more boys pursue STEM careers than girls, but I doubt fast food toys are high up on the list.

Leave Kids to “Discover” Mathematical Strategies?

When I was a kid I struggled with math. I hated math. I dreaded math tests. I didn’t understand it and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I was in the remedial class throughout elementary school and I even had to take summer school several times in elementary school.

Hours my mom and I would spend on math homework. My dad, I’m sure, was frustrated that I just didn’t seem to get it.

It was awful. Math was the bane of my existence.

Then I got to 7th-Grade and had Mr. Looft as a math teacher. Something clicked and while I didn’t become a math scholar I gained understanding. I gained an appreciation of it, and something else happened – I was able to join regular math classes, not advanced mind you, but I was mainstream and that was just fine with me. I got through Algebra II and for me, that was enough. I had no desire or inclination to enter a STEM field or have a STEM major in college. (This is part of the reason I get so frustrated with the STEM push.)

I no longer hate math, I no longer dread it, and it is no longer the bane of my existence. That’s no small thing.

Mr. Looft helped guide me in understanding math. Did he teach me some new fad to solve problems? Did he try to adapt to my learning style?

He was nice and he had an abundance of patience with a kid like me. He made math fun (gasp!) because he was fun. Kids loved him. He helped change my attitude about math and that made a world of difference.

The problem wasn’t necessarily how I was being taught math throughout elementary school, but my attitude and the built up frustration that I had toward the subject and everything and everyone associated with it. Math didn’t change, my attitude did.

I got my first A in math in his class. Thank you, Mr. Looft.

I thought of this as I read the most inane opinion piece in Education Week entitled “Cognitively-Guided Instruction: Supporting Students to Create Their Own Mathematical Understanding.”

Jeff Feitelberg, a 4th-grade teacher, wrote:

Two years ago, I was introduced to the Cognitively-Guided Instruction (CGI) model of mathematics instruction. CGI is a student-centered approach to teaching math. It starts with what children already know and builds on their natural number sense as well as their intuitive approaches to problem solving.

Most teacher training involves instruction that is more teacher-centered — also known as direct instruction — in which teachers lead students through the mastery of skills. One of the challenges for me in introducing CGI in my classroom was ceding this control.  How would students learn if I let them discover the strategies rather than taught them directly? Could students really grow as mathematicians just by grappling, sharing, questioning, and discussing their mathematics together?

I’m trying to picture Mr. Looft supporting me as I created my “own mathematical understanding.” I shudder to think. If I were left to “discover” the strategies I needed to solve problems I would have failed, miserably.

Trump’s FY19 Education Budget Proposes an $8.1 Billion Cut

President Donald Trump giving the 2018 State of the Union Address.

President Donald Trump released his proposed FY19 budget this week and it proposes cutting $8.1 billion from the U.S. Department of Education’s discretionary spending compared to what the department received from the annualized FY18  continuing resolutions. $6.6 billion of those cuts come in the departments discretionary funding.

The budget proposes several program eliminations:

The second largest program to be eliminated is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers which accounts for just over $1.1 billion. They explain in President Trump’s FY19 major savings and reforms document:

The 21st CCLC program, authorized under the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, enables communities to establish or expand centers that provide additional student learning opportunities through before- and after-school programs, and summer school programs, aimed at improving student academic outcomes. While research has demonstrated positive findings on the impact of afterschool programs overall, the subset of afterschool programs funded by 21st CCLC are not, on the whole, helping students meet challenging State academic standards. For example, on average, from 2013 to 2015, less than 20 percent of program participants improved from not proficient to proficient or above on State assessments in reading and mathematics. Additionally, student improvement in academic grades was limited, with States reporting higher math and English grades for less than half of regular program participants. These recent results are consistent with findings of the last rigorous national evaluation of the program, conducted in 2005, which also found the program had limited academic impact. Additionally, nearly 60 percent of students attend 21st CCLC for fewer than 30 days a year, suggesting that the majority of families with participating students do not use the program for childcare.

These data strongly suggest that the 21st CCLC is not generating the benefits commensurate with an annual investment of more than $1 billion in limited Federal education funds. Moreover, the provision of before- and after-school academic enrichment opportunities may be better supported with other Federal, State, local, or private funds, including the $15 billion Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies program.

The largest program to be eliminated is the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants which was funded at just over $2 billion dollars. They said:

The Budget proposes to eliminate the Supporting Effective Instruction (SEI) State Grants program. While the SEI State Grants program authorizes a wide range of activities, in school year 2015-2016, 52 percent of funds were used for PD and 25 percent were used for class-size reduction. A Local Educational Agency that identifies either activity as a key strategy for responding to a comprehensive needs assessment may use Title I, Part A funds for the same purpose. Title I funds also may be used to recruit and retain effective teachers. In addition, PD as currently provided, has shown limited impact on student achievement. For example, a recent evaluation of an intensive elementary school mathematics PD program found that while the PD improved teacher knowledge and led to improvements in teachers’ use and quality of explanation in the classroom, there was no difference in student achievement test scores on either the State assessment or on a study-administered math test. Additional Department of Education-funded studies of PD have found similar results. While class size reduction has been shown to increase student achievement, school districts used SEI State Grant funds to pay the salaries of an estimated 8,000 teachers in school year 2015-2016, out of a total nationwide teacher workforce of roughly three million teachers. These data suggest that eliminating the program would likely have minimal impact on class sizes or teacher staffing levels.

They also eliminated $32 million for statewide longitundinal database systems, but, unfortunately, the only reason that was done was because the work it funded had been completed.

The U.S. Department of Education highlighted their priorities in the FY19 budget:

  • $1 billion increase for public and private school choice through the new Opportunity Grants program
  • $200 million dedicated to STEM education
  • More than $13 billion to maintain the Federal investment in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act State formula and discretionary grants
  • $15.5 billion to maintain the Federal investment in Title I grants to Local Educational Agencies (LEAs)
  • $43 million for School Climate Transformation grants to help States and LEAs mitigate the impacts of the opioid epidemic on students and schools

“The president’s budget request expands education freedom for America’s families while protecting our nation’s most vulnerable students,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said. “The budget also reflects our commitment to spending taxpayer dollars wisely and efficiently by consolidating and eliminating duplicative and ineffective federal programs that are better handled at the state or local level. I look forward to working with Congress to pass a budget that puts students first and returns power in education to where it belongs: with states, districts and families.”

Computer Science Makes The Case For Less Computer Use in Schools

Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Keywords for today: Working memory, long-term memory, subroutines, chunking, structured programming, math

When you mention common core, most people who are opposed to it immediately mention the “crazy math” instruction created by the standards. They roll their eyes and say, “I never had to learn math that way and I turned out just fine.” Then they point to the statistic that shows American students aren’t able to do basic math when they graduate high school. Nationally, 25% of our high school graduates must take remedial coursework in math in college. Here in Missouri, that number is just upwards of 30%.  From there the typical response is to blame the teachers and call for the elimination of tenure of these terrible teachers who can’t seem to teach math. Those who like the standards often respond with the pablum that kids won’t need to do math in the real world anyway. They can just use their smartphone or a computer. However, cognitive science is on the side of the old schoolers and, interestingly, so it seems is computer science.

The fundamental differences in the approach to teaching mathematics (in elementary and middle school) comes down to; do you focus on teaching processes and creative problem solving or, do you focus on mastery of basic skills and rote memorization. These camps squared off against each other in California in the 90’s and 00’s in what is now known as the Math Wars. Real world experience was not on the side of those in the first camp. California moved towards the 1989 recommendations of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics which de-emphasized memorization of math facts (among other things covered later in this post). The result was that in four years (by 1996) their fourth graders ranked 42nd out of 44 states in math on the NAEP. Five years after adoption, the percentage of students in their state university system requiring math remediation rose from 23% to 54%. Is there science behind these outcomes? It turns out there is.

A meta-study by Harmtan and Nelson (Automaticity in Computation and Student Success in Introductory Physical Science Courses) looks at cognitive research, the misguided guidelines produced by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and subsequent changes to state math standards that all seem to be working against each other to produce children who are so ill-prepared in math that they simply cannot complete a STEM degree.

Cognitive Science

First brief lesson in cognitive science or, how the brain works. From their paper:

“The cognitive science model for reasoning is based on the interaction between a long-term memory (LTM), where elements of knowledge are organized, and working memory (WM) where elements are processed.”

Long Term Memory:  “Procedures (sequenced steps for processing) and facts are stored as small elements of knowledge in LTM.” While LTM has the ability to hold thousands of facts, procedures and associations, those elements are stored slowly over time through focused attention, repeated exposure and retrieval practice.

Working Memory: “The brain thinks, plans, and solves problems in working memory.” WM  can recall unlimited well-memorized information from LTM but, can hold only a few small elements (3-5) of novel information (that which is not-well-memorized), for a very brief period of time (~30 seconds).

Automaticity: “The fast, implicit, and automatic retrieval of a fact or a procedure from long-term memory.”

During problem-solving, if the limits in WM space for novel information are reached, the result is a sense of confusion and a likely inability to solve the problem. Therefore,

your ability to solve problems depends nearly entirely on how much knowledge you have “memorized to automaticity” in LTM. Ericsson 1995

The example Hartman/Nelson gives is the calculation 8 x 7. If the answer cannot be recalled automatically from LTM, and instead the child uses a calculator to come up with the answer, the number 56 must be stored in WM so that it can be transferred to where the calculation is being written. That takes one of the limited 3-5 slots our brains have available for novel information in WM.

Three ways around the novel WM constraints are chunking, algorithms, and automaticity. All require thorough memorization. More on this later.

How the “experts” ignored these scientific facts.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) is an organization composed primarily of faculty from schools of education and K-12 curriculum specialists and instructors. They are not mathematicians.  In a 1989 detailed position paper, known as the “NCTM Standards,” the council recommended the use of a calculator in all grades.  In the ensuing years, over 45 states adopted standards for K-12 education modeled on the NCTM standards. By 2005, 30 states actually required students as young as first grade to be taught how to use a calculator. Their standards also called for “decreased attention” to be given to:

  • “memorizing rules and algorithms
  • finding exact forms of answers
  • manipulating symbols
  • relying on outside authority (teacher or answer key)
  • rote practice
  • paper and pencil fraction computation”

NCTM’s position paper got states to move students away from placing math facts into LTM in favor of working out real world problems on their own or in small groups, relying very heavily on WM. It should begin to make sense why our students struggle with more complex math in high school and require remedial coursework in college given the laborious, anti-cognitive science way they have been taught math.

In contrast, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMAP), made up of mathematicians, recommended in their 2008 report

“[During calculations,] to obtain the maximal benefits of automaticity in support of complex problem solving, arithmetic facts and fundamental algorithms should be thoroughly mastered, and indeed, over-learned, rather than merely learned to a moderate degree of proficiency.”

Hartman/Nelson’s analysis of American’s scores on math assessments shows that we are making progress with conceptualized math, but we are tanking on actual computational skills. The reliance on calculators has deprived students of the ability to recognize when the answers provided by the calculators are unreasonable and input error should be considered. A nurse can conceptually understand how important it is to get the right dose of medication for a patient. However, if she cannot do the simple calculation of dose to weight and instead relies solely on a machine programmed to provide the dose per kg instead of per lbs, into which pounds have been entered, she won’t recognize the problem with the machine’s recommended dose.

Calculators to Computers

In 1989 students had reasonable access to calculators. Today they have reasonable access to computers and once again we have “experts” calling for more use of computers in the classroom to be in line with “21st-century skills.” The existence of computers, which can calculate complex math problems often faster than humans, begs the question; do humans even need to be able to solve those problems themselves?

Cognitive experts respond that, even in the age of computers, “automaticity in support of complex problem solving is crucial for students because complex problems have simple problems embedded in them.” (Willingham 2009b) The example above of the nurse provides anecdotal evidence that we still need humans to understand the math.

The interplay between data sets and working memory is true not only for humans but also for the computers that are solving these problems so quickly. They are able to do that because they pull answers from their own stored data sets. They use common subroutines linked together, in a process called structured programming, to perform complex calculations and complex processes.

Structured programming takes advantage of the solutions offered by cognitive science: chunking, algorithms, and automaticity. “Chunks” are elements that have been memorized as a group (think keywords or tags). Algorithms are self-contained step-by-step set of operations to be performed. Automaticity is rapid retrieval from a known data set.

 There is excited talk about teaching very young children computer programming. It would be impractical to teach them any specific programming language because the language will likely be obsolete by the time they graduate. But you can teach them the structured programming concepts of taking common subroutines and stringing them together to complete more complex tasks.

For example, say you want to move a virtual car through a simple maze.

Older coding would create a string of code that says, for example,

Advance 1 space forward
Turn left
Advance 1 space
Turn right
Advance 1 space
Turn left
Advance 1 space
Turn right
Advance 1 space
Turn left

In this case, you would have to know exactly what to do in each square in advance and write out all the directions to get the car out of the maze. Make a mistake like telling it to turn left rather than right, or telling it to advance two spaces instead of one and your car (program) gets stuck. This is a relatively small simple maze. Larger mazes would require much longer code.  To techies this is known as spaghetti code. It is long and prone to errors which are hard to find.

Structured programming relies on common tasks that are repeated and would look conceptually more like this.

1  Directive 1: Purple square stops advance
2  Sub1: Advance one space
3  Sub2: turn right 90 degrees
4  Sub 3: turn left 90 degrees, turn left 90 degrees
5 Test Directive 1
6  If false, sub1
7  Repeat until Directive 1=true
8  If true, sub 2, test Directive 1
9  If false, sub1
10   If true, sub 3, sub1
11  Resume line 5

Now, no matter how large your maze is, the program is only this long. The program combines known tasks and conditions to make minute but rapid repeated decisions to complete a more complex process. Programmers know that value of small discreet knowledge that is used frequently to speed up processing. Not only does this make programming faster, it also makes it easier to find where the code has gone wrong. This is very similar to how the human brain works and makes the case that children should be embedding those blocks of knowledge in their long-term memory for future use in more complex operations.

Fortunately, the young mind is primed to do this type of LTM storage. By the time they get to school they have been doing this with language for 4-6 years. It is relatively easy to get them to work on math facts by repeated exposure and retrieval practice. This will provide them with the necessary bank of knowledge to pull from LTM to use in more advanced math later. This will speed up their processing and make finding errors in their processing much quicker as well.

The significance of ignoring what cognitive science tells us and eschewing things like rote memory, as NCTM did, is captured in the abstract from Hartman/Nelson’s paper. The affect on a student’s ability to obtain a degree in the much lauded STEM field is impacted by their ability to do computational math.

Between 1984 and 2011, the percentage of US bachelor’s degrees awarded in physics declined by 25%, in chemistry declined by 33%, and overall in physical sciences and engineering fell 40%. Data suggest that these declines are correlated to a K-12 de-emphasis in most states of practicing computation skills in mathematics. Analysis of K-12 “state standards” put into place between 1990 and 2010 find that most states directed teachers to de-emphasize both memorization and student practice in computational problem solving. Available state test score data show a significant decline in student computation skills. In recent international testing, scores for US 16-24 year olds in numeracy finished last among 22 tested nations in the OECD.Recent studies in cognitive science have found that so solve well-structured problems in the sciences, students must first memorize fundamental facts and procedures in mathematics and science until they can be recalled “with automaticity,” then practice applying those skills in a variety of distinctive contexts. Actions are suggested to improve US STEM graduation rates by aligning US math and science curricula with the recommendations of cognitive science.

What we are teaching, or not teaching, today will take almost 20 years to show up in the workforce so these are not just academic debates among elementary and middle school teachers. There is some urgency to get it right.

To review. Reasoning is the interaction between LTM and WM. Without a bank of memorized facts ready for use in WM, our ability to reason is severely impaired. If basic math facts (+-x÷) are not available from LTM, students will struggle with more complex math as WM becomes overloaded. Without more complex math they will not be able to complete a STEM degree. Computer science is a STEM subject. Using computers early on in education reduces banking of information into LTM. Computer scientists rely on smaller more manageable known datapacks to do complex processing, much like the interchange of LTM and WM. Thus computer science makes the case for not using computers in early grades to do computational math.

Cross-posted from Missouri Education Watchdog.

Back to School Lingo Cheat Sheet

Have you seen back to school articles like this one? Buffalo News provides parents a cheat sheet on the lingo that they will hear at their local school since they are beholden to the latest fads.

They define STEM.

STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, an initiative to ready students for high-tech fields, particularly in light of the global economy. It led to STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, which recognizes the importance of the arts in learning. And then another acronym popped up: STREAM: In Buffalo Catholic Diocese schools, the “R” in STREAM stands for religion: Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math. For others, the “R” stands for reading: Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Math, to mark the continued importance of language arts in learning.

What’s missing is “C” as in civics or “H” as it humanities or even “L” as in languages. This is what happens when you push workforce development instead of classical education.

Buffalo’s local schools have “community schools” which provides “wrap-around services.” This is a popular trend shown in a poll I wrote about last week.

Community schools: Designated schools open after hours and on weekends to provide a wide range of services and programming to students and their families, including enrichment classes, training, health care, meals and more.

Funded by the state to help poor districts, they have quickly become a centerpiece in efforts by Buffalo Public Schools to assist its neediest students. Buffalo last year had 13 schools designated as community schools and brought in more than 22,000 visitors. It hopes to double that number this year with an additional two schools.

Here’s an excerpt highlighting social-emotional learning:

Social emotional learning: The way people acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to manage their emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions, according to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. The goal is to increase social skills, improve behavior and academic performance by developing five core skills.

Mindfulness: An important part of social emotional learning, it is being aware of yourself and your surroundings, what others think and how they perceive things, and is a practice that can be taught. Being aware leads to self-regulation of behavior and increases attention and emotional regulation. It helps children learn to think before acting.

We’ve published some articles about social-emotional learning, and it is something we will monitor going forward.

Read the rest of the article. What’s similar and what’s different with your local school district?

Rocket Science for Babies?

This may be taking STEM a tad too far. NPR introduced an author who writes books about rocket science and physics to very young children.

The rationale by the book’s author is that children are surrounded by technology, not animals. Listen to the segment below.

If there is a dearth of math and science books for small children there is a reason for that. The goal at that age is to teach children to read, not to introduce them to mathematical and scientific concepts. If a child is interested in reading something like that go for it, but I’m leery of the goal behind this.

Long Live the Liberal Arts!


With a workforce development model our students are just seen as cogs in a wheel.

Since before the development and implementation of Common Core we have seen a shift in education from classical education towards a workforce development model. The emphasis has been placed on STEM at the expense of the liberal arts. Common Core was introduced to help prepare students for STEM (failed in that record) in order to prepare students for 21st century jobs of the 21st century economy. If there isn’t a job for it in the future, so the argument goes, then we should not be investing our time there.

So you have the reform math push by Common Core that tries to get kindergarteners to think algebraically to cutting the amount of literature a student reads while in school in lieu of informational text as student won’t get paid to read fiction don’t you know?

David Whalen, provost at Hillsdale College, wrote a piece that pushes back against this trend. Please take some time considering it. Here are a few relevant excerpts:

The value and importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects have been elevated as worthy of study over and against the rather insubstantial and ideologically shrill humanities.

In fact, however, these arguments constitute a persuasive and powerful argument for the very education they attempt to dismiss. However unwittingly, it fairly demonstrates the need to study things enduringly human and humane, artful and wise.

For example, an essay by G.W. Thielman published in June 2015 attempts to argue in favor of a STEM education (as do many), and demonstrates the inescapable importance of the study of rhetoric and logic — liberal arts as venerable as they are essential. In his essay, Thielman argues that Edison has illuminated the world more than any of its sages, and that Tesla (the engineer, not the auto) has “contributed more power to the public” than all of history’s revolutionaries. This offers a fallacy of equivocation that no doubt is intended to amuse more than to persuade.

But it is a fallacy, and both its deployment and discernment depend on the liberal art of rhetoric for their fullest grasp and even enjoyment.

A sound liberal arts education aims precisely to sharpen readers and thinkers in their use of such arguments and amusements. It aims to prepare minds and hearts for a world loud with all manner of persuasion, much of it good, much more of it not-so-good.

Common Core advocates with their alleged desire to help students to think critically short circuit their own stated goal when liberal arts is diminished.

There are problems within liberal arts education, but is liberal arts education really the problem?

Sadly, the objection to the liberal arts — as currently taught — carries a good bit of weight. Censorious, radicalized ideology has become such an orthodoxy in the humanities that dissent is rarely tolerated, and the extremity of its commonplace views renders parody virtually impossible.

But to reject the liberal arts misses the point. “Abusus non tollit usum,” the old adage goes: “The abuse of a thing tells not against its proper use.”

The liberal arts are not the problem here; poor “practitioners” of them are the problem, and it is no correction simply to despair of the arts and wander off into precincts where numbers are thought never to lie and the root of happiness can be found in laminar airflow.

Put another way, if one’s doctor suggests treating a sprained ankle by shaking a dried gourd at the full moon, one does not give up on medicine; one finds another doctor.

Also Whalen points out the fact that we engage in liberal arts education because it is a reflection of who we are.

The economic, political and social consequences of this or that kind of education, the cost of investment in disciplines given to self-indulgent theorizing, the needs impressed upon us by technological developments, military conditions and social necessities — all these matters matter, and all their arguments count.

What’s more, rarely does one find acknowledgment that the sciences and math are liberal arts and essential components of a sound liberal arts education. But the liberal arts do not derive their importance from our educational policy or our individual preferences. They derive their importance from our nature (dare one say it).

It is a problem that the humanities are so often captive to poor teaching and corrosive intellectual fads; it is the “problem” that they are, after all, inescapable. That is, the humanities and the other liberal arts (even science and math) arise out of, and force upon us, reflections about what is to be desired, what is to be pursued, what is to be done.

We cannot help but think about these things. We cannot choose to jettison or abandon the fact that we are philosophical, aesthetic, ethical beings who think about what is, what ought to be, how we ought to live, and why all this matters. The disciplines that take up this inescapable facet of our humanity are the liberal arts. To do without them is to leave uncultivated an essential aspect of ourselves (namely, our selves).

Be sure to read the whole piece.

Introducing STEM in Preschool

Photo credit: Woodley Wonder Works (CC-By-2.0)

These kids are not ready for STEM so researchers want to introduce it in preschool.
Photo credit: Woodley Wonder Works (CC-By-2.0)

I’ve written before how the push for “higher” and “more rigorous” standards for elementary school was going to trickle down the push for not only more preschool, but these concepts will be introduced in preschool so kids entering kindergarten are “ready.”

It just makes me sick what developmentally inappropriate standards, and now education reformers what to extend the school to workforce pipeline to preschool.

Education Dive reports who is behind the initiative to “lay a foundation” for STEM in preschool.

Researchers at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts are still developing the curriculum for a new “Seeds of STEM” initiative, but the plan is to introduce the problem-solving process that is basic to science, technology, engineering and math fields in preschool.

And why is it being done?

The theory behind the Seeds of STEM initiative is that it’s never too late to start fostering the thinking skills children will need to be scientists and engineers. The Next Generation Science Standards include scaffolding that take subjects all the way down to kindergarten. While only a fraction of states have adopted the new science standards, teachers across the country participated in their development, and many are incorporating the new standards into their classrooms.

So much for letting kids be kids at 4-years-of-age, no we have to give them “thinking skills” so they’re ready “for 21st century careers available in our global economy” to borrow the workforce development model lingo. I doubt that Worcester Polytechnic Institute has child development experts working with them because if they did they wouldn’t be doing this.

Math Education in Jeopardy


Jay Matthews at The Washington Post wrote another piece about the crisis in our nation’s math instruction under Common Core. In his article he quotes a parent who happens to be a college chemistry professor.

John Fourkas, both a parent and a University of Maryland chemistry professor, said much of the Common Core-based math curriculum seems to him “completely disjointed, focusing too much on specialized vocabulary.” He said there is “not enough repetition of key skills as new topics are introduced.”

“Our son has had the misfortune of being on the leading edge of the reform, and so every year there is a new curriculum with which the teachers are not familiar,” Fourkas said. “Our son is in Algebra 2 this year, and I give them great credit for learning from their mistakes and designing a curriculum that is far more coherent.”

Matthews also discusses parental frustrations with the delay of algebra.

Carolyn Simpson, member of the school board in a district east of Seattle, said she was one of 600 parents petitioning her own board to open a path to eighth-grade algebra for the children of any parents who wanted it. But the majority of the board said no.

Elynn Simons has been tutoring students in the Washington area for 20 years. One of the reasons eighth-grade algebra is popular in the region, she said, is the advantage that acceleration brings to the college-admissions process. “If a student takes algebra in eighth grade, followed by geometry in ninth and Algebra 2 as a sophomore, they stand a chance of doing their best on the ACT and/or SAT second semester of their junior year,” she said.

This is why Common Core does not adequately prepare students for select colleges or collegiate STEM programs. They simply do not receive the math instruction in high school required.

What Has Caused California’s Teacher Shortage?


I read an article in EdSource that describes the teacher shortage that the state of California is now facing.  In order to mitigate that the schools in the state will have to increasingly turn to “unprepared teachers” to meet the demand.

These are teachers that a report written by Learning Policy Institute defines: “as those who are teaching with a short-term permit, have been given a waiver to teach outside their subject area by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, or have a temporary ‘intern credential.'”

I’m curious why California is facing this teacher shortage to begin with?

EdSource notes:

A particularly disturbing feature of the teacher employment landscape is that the number of new teachers going into math and science has declined, despite ongoing efforts in California and nationally to attract teachers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields to the profession.

For example, the number of new credentials awarded to math teachers has dropped by nearly a third (32 percent) over the last four years. Those awarded to science teachers declined by 14 percent. During the same period, the number of underprepared math teachers increased by 23 percent, while the number of science teachers in this category increased by 51 percent.

The shrinking production of credentialed math teachers comes at a time when far fewer students met or exceeded standards on Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced math tests, compared to those who did so on the English language arts portion of the test. Teacher shortages in these areas, the report says, “are a concern as the state seeks to implement new, more demanding standards in both subject areas (math and science), requiring teachers who deeply understand their content and how to teach it in a way that develops higher order thinking and performance skills.”

There is no single solution to the emerging teaching shortage, the report concludes. Instead, what is needed is a “comprehensive set of strategies at the local and state levels.”

This reveals that the state’s STEM program is a failure if you are not able to convince students to desire to teach math and science.

Yet they never get to the root cause. Could the direction of education reform, standardized assessments and the Common Core have something to do with the teacher shortage? We already have seen one award-winning teacher discourage people from entering the field. We’ve all read stories about teachers resigning or retiring instead of continuing in a system under Common Core. The root cause of California’s problem likely predates Common Core, but I think it’s likely it will exasperate California’s problem in the future.