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Issues – edu|FOCUS
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Issues

Where Are the Women in STEM?

Here we are in 2017. Seems a lot of things have regressed, including the progress of women in the workplace - or at least that's true in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) disciplines. Not only are women paid less than men regardless of the field they're in, but only about a quarter of STEM jobs are filled by women in the first place. There are a number of reasons as to why that is, and it can all be linked to the fact that we still live in a sexist society. The US Department of Commerce's Economics and Statistics Administration produced an eye-opening guide which highlights some of those gaps both in the workplace and in education. You can read that guide here (external link). Everywhere you look, as a society, we still enforce gender stereotypes...

kids in kindergarten

What is Kindergarten Ready, Really?

Once upon a time, children walked into kindergarten as blank slates for their teachers to write upon. They might or might not know their ABC’s, how to hold a pencil and how to read. Now, though, it seems that more and more is being asked of students before they are ever even taught in school. Children are entering school already behind. So what is "kindergarten ready", really? What does it mean? Students who are kindergarten ready are more than three times as likely to be reading on grade level in third grade, thus making kindergarten readiness a huge indicator of outcomes for students. In Texas, a child is eligible to start kindergarten if they have turned five years old prior to September 1 of the school year they would be enrolling in. Other states have a later cutoff, but generally speaking, most students begin kindergarten at around five years old. It’s assumed that students will enter school with some specific skills; however, there is no specific list of kindergarten-ready standards. According to research compiled into a policy brief from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEE), teachers cite factors such as overall child health, ability to communicate thoughts and needs as well as curiosity as important factors indicating kindergarten readiness. Recently, teachers are emphasizing the importance of nonacademic readiness skills over traditional measures of readiness like knowing names of colors, recognizing the alphabet and counting. However, NIEE acknowledges that studies indicate a higher focus on academic readiness in studies focusing on perceptions of low-income children. Parent perception of skills needed to be kindergarten ready also varies based on socioeconomic status but tends to focus on academics. From 2001-2004, the School Readiness Indicators Initiative joined 17 states to try to develop a workable list of readiness factors to include in policy proposals. Maryland has created the R4K— Ready for Kindergarten, a comprehensive early childhood assessment system that builds upon the state assessment system used until 2013. In Texas, Little Texans, Big Futures drew on expertise across the state to set early learning goals. The American Federation of Teachers offers a kindergarten ready checklist online that draws on factors that some states utilize to assess incoming students. Still, without a tailored list of what skills a school is expecting, a parent is challenged with how to best prepare their child for school. Additionally, according to NIEE’s policy brief, "children from low-income or less-educated families are less likely to have the supports necessary for healthy growth and development, resulting in lower abilities at school entry.” The biggest challenge, though, is that no one system exists that defines what kindergarten readiness is. Each state may or may not define readiness; sometimes readiness is defined differently at different schools in the same city. A national standard of readiness would assist both preschools and parents in preparing students to meet the challenges they will face in today’s classrooms. Is there a written kindergarten ready standard where you live? Drop us a note in the comments, and tune back in as...

The Presumptive Presidential Candidates: What’s at Stake in Education

We’re approximately five months out from the general election for the presidency, and after a long and protracted battle for the nomination, we have presumptive candidates for both the Democratic and Republican parties. Both presidential candidates have strong opinions on issues that will affect our nation for the next four years of their potential presidency and beyond. It’s important to note that thus far, education hasn’t been a big topic of discussion in the presidential primaries, with debates focusing on issues related to the economy and immigration. Trump’s campaign website minimally addresses education in the “issues” section (and not the more visible “positions" section). Clinton’s website has two sections in the issues page dedicated to education (one for K-12 and one for early childhood education). Notably, in this election, because education hasn’t yet been a big topic of conversation, it’s up to the voter to pursue information on their own to try to get a feel for the reforms their preferred candidate might make. From their campaign websites, it’s easier to decipher Clinton’s education policy platform; Trump has been more reluctant to define his opinions on education aside from his strong support of moving away from federal oversight to more local control. The table below showcases some of the “hot button” issues in education of the moment, and the current standings (as of June 2016) of the two presumptive presidential candidates. Issue Clinton Trump Common Core In Favor Opposed ECE Supports universal pre-K Unknown Federal Oversight In Favor Opposed Free Community College In Favor Opposed School Choice In Favor (in public system) In Favor In February, Trump emphasized, “We need to fix our broken education system!” and he has previously advocated for school choice, saying “Competition is why I'm very much in favor of school choice. Let schools compete for kids. I guarantee that if you forced schools to get better or close because parents didn't want to enroll their kids there, they would get better. Those schools that weren't good enough to attract students would close, and that's a good thing.”* School choice is the most specific issue that Trump has recently addressed (aside from common core); it’s a fitting focus for him, given his background in business. Clinton has spoken on numerous education related issues recently. To compare their views on common core, Clinton recently said, "I know Common Core started out as a, actually non-partisan, not bi-partisan, a non-partisan effort that was endorsed very much across the political spectrum…What went wrong? I think the roll-out was disastrous…Remember a lot of states had developed their own standards and they'd been teaching to those standards. And they had a full industry that was training teachers to understand what was going to be tested. And then along comes Common Core and you're expected to turn on a dime.”* Trump strongly opposes common core and federal oversight in general. The biggest difference between the two candidates will likely come down to the struggle between local and federal control when it comes to supervising education reform and ensuring that every...

Safe Spaces Hurt Students: What I Learned from Mr. Conklin

"Safe spaces," or areas where people cannot say things that may be offensive or harmful to others, have become more popular in recent months. And they are quite controversial. The Controversy Over Safe Spaces Advocates of these "safe spaces" claim that people have different experiences and thus may be offended by some conversations.  They also say that it is inappropriate to assume people are either males or females, when many students now identify as transgender. Opponents of these areas say they stifle one's right to free speech and discourage debate on certain issues. They also believe it goes too far. For example, one student wanted to have a memorial to the victims on 9/11, but was not allowed to due to fear that it would lead to Islamophobia. What I Learned from Mr. Conklin I would not be the person with the strong opinions I have if it were not for Mr. Conklin's AP Government class. Every Wednesday we were supposed to talk about a recent news article, but more often than not, it turned into a debate over political issues. One day, someone brought in an article about how religious organizations do not have to guarantee birth control to their employees. This became a heated argument over the role of religion, and women's rights. We discussed how religious organizations have their own beliefs and should not have to comply with government demands, and we discussed the many benefits of the birth control pill. If I never had this discussion, I would never have been able to understand the other point of view. In fact, it solidified my beliefs about the role of religion in society and about the role of government due to this conversation. The important thing is that Mr. Conklin never shut down the conversation to create a "safe space." I'm sure he knew that people were offended, but wanted to use that frustration to have a debate.  In fact, he encouraged people with different views to argue their main points and see if there's a common ground. Since that class, I now need to understand both points of view before I officially decide where I stand on an issue. If Mr. Conklin had decided that we needed a "safe space," where people would not be stereotyped, I never would have learned to understand another point of view. In fact, if people were not okay with the subject, they could just leave the classroom and pretend they needed to use the restroom. So, I agree that people should not make racist or stereotypical comments; however, I also believe that students should be exposed to a range of different views so that they can better understand themselves....

There’s a giant gender gap in tech.

Hammocks. Gourmet food. Fitness classes on site. Free Shuttles. What can’t you find on the campuses of tech giants these days? Women. There’s a giant gender gap in tech, and it’s posing a problem for the industry. The generally accepted figure for the number of women in tech is 30%, but if you look at the actual percentages of women holding engineering roles, that figure shrinks considerably. Let’s look at some of the giants in the industry. At Facebook and Google, women make up about a third of the workforce, but only 16% of technical jobs at Facebook and 18% at Google are held by female engineers. At, Twitter non-technical positions have a near equal gender split, but only 10% of engineering jobs are filled by women. And if you look at the stats for the entire continent of Europe, only 7% of engineers are women. This lack of women in tech isn’t just a corporate responsibility issue, or a women’s issue; it’s actually hurting companies’ bottom lines. As Toptal co-founder and COO Breanden Beneschott explains, addressing the gender gap is “not just diversity for the sake of diversity. If men and women are equally intelligent, statistically speaking, then out of the smartest ten people in the world, five should be male and five should be female. Thus, if your team is anything less than an equal balance of men and women, then your team is probably not the best it can be.” The numbers back Beneschott up. Studies show that gender-balanced teams outperform all-male or all-female teams, so much so that making the transition from a homogenous team to a gender-balanced one can increase revenue by 41%. And, companies with at least one woman on the executive board receive valuations that are 64% higher than those who have an exclusively male leadership slate. It’s pretty simple. Teams that don’t have women aren’t as creative or productive as they could be, and this is a problem stifling the entire industry. It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly why there are so few women in tech, but according to Girls Who Code founder and CEO Reshma Saujani, popular culture and a lack of knowledge about the industry are two major deterrents. From TV shows like Silicon Valley that promote the stereotype that an engineer is a t-shirt clad guy to Forever 21 tank-tops that read “allergic to algebra” across the chest, girls are getting the message that tech is a man’s domain. And they’re taking note. In Middle School, 74% of girls express interest in studying STEM fields. By the end of High School, however, only 0.4% intend to pursue computer science degrees. What this means is that closing the gender gap is going to take a whole lot more than stronger recruitment efforts. There simply aren’t enough female engineers in the job market to reach anything close to parity right now. Closing the gap requires companies addressing the root of the problem, which begins in the classroom and schoolyard, not at job fairs. The good news is that...

Is A Year-Round School System Better?

Should children have so much time away from school?  Is the system of going to school for 180 days straight (minus spring and winter breaks), then having three months off for summer outdated and ineffectual?  Perhaps this sentiment is coming from the dreariness of a working adult, but sometimes I think grade school kids end up being away from a school environment for far too long after spending a very compressed period of time trying to learn everything they can.  So are the concepts behind having school year-round a better solution? Hopefully you’ve all seen the statistics about how kids lose a large portion of what they learned throughout the year during their summer break due to inactivity, and a lack of experiences relating it to real life (a problem with American education as a whole, really).  Therefore the first few months of the new school year are spent recapping what they already should know, which then leaves less time to learn the new stuff.  Of course, this isn’t true for every student, but it is enough of a problem to create statistics for it. The older I get, the more I start to agree to the idea of year-round schooling like they have in most other countries.  In case you were unfamiliar, there are still 180 school days total, they are just spread out through the entire year, for instance having 45 days in school followed by a 15 day break or having 90 days on and 30 days off.  There are already numerous studies and articles about the pros and cons of this system – the National Education Association website lists a few of the basics plus links to a few sites discussing the topic – and a quick google search can yield you all the results you could want for either side.  The biggest concerns come from a much wider range of life aspects like parent vacation time, babysitters, summer jobs, extracurricular activities, finances to run the school, complications between schools going year round versus schools with a full summer break in the same district/location, and so on.  All of this basically comes down to the fact that schooling is treated as such a separate entity from the rest of daily community life that there isn’t really a way to adapt a year-round schedule without a general community overhaul.   [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="743"] Year-Round or Traditional?[/caption]   So maybe it’s not the year-round thing that I’m into, but the sense of a more immersive education experience, without overworking students (and teachers) for such a long time only to step away for three months of nothing.  Perhaps if there was a way to emulate the feeling of getting a break from the routine of going to school, but still be in a structured learning environment that can add to the learning experience, while also getting the community involved.  I think something like 45 days in traditional classes and 15 days in some type of modified school environment, like work studies, or mini-internships, something along those lines. ...

Small Steps for Education Reform, No Giant Leaps Yet

The education reform movement is finally starting to make some more headway across the country, what with the government admitting the pointlessness of high-stakes testing and failure of NCLB-esque programs, and an increasing desire for accountability from charter schools and other alternative education mediums when it comes to results. But is it enough? You may have seen ads lately for something called the XQ Super School Project, where Jessica Williams from The Daily Show walks around the street in a spacesuit talking to people about problems with the current school system. Those ads were just vague enough to peak my interests, but had I not already been involved in learning about the education reform movement, I don’t think I would have given it a second thought, let alone visiting the website myself to learn what the deal was. In case you didn’t know (or don’t watch much TV), the XQ Super School Project was started by Russlynn Ali, former assistant secretary of civil rights for the US Department of Education, and Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs (yes, that Steve Jobs) with the intent to create a new school model for American schools. According to their website, by taking ideas from literally everyone who has something (constructive) to offer, they propose people to team up and put their creative ideas together to re-imagine how the American public school system operates. A quick google search will give you more info on the project, who’s involved and what people are saying, the biggest headline being how Powell-Jobs has personally donated $50 million to the project for future developments. While I applaud this movement for trying, I can’t help but think that it isn’t enough. Yes, $50 million is a lot of money for one person, but for an entire nation, it’s barely enough to cover the costs of advertising this campaign. Maybe that’s why I haven’t seen or heard much about the project in full. Maybe Powell-Jobs was hoping other high-profile individuals would donate as well. Maybe they were hoping for the social media machine to latch on to this project and run with it. Whatever the case, the site only boasts just over 5000 people having signed up, which is no small group, but in the long run aren’t nearly enough people thinking about the future of education to make a lasting difference. I vaguely remember similar projects in the past that had significant financial backing from a few people with the hopes of changing and bettering the American education system (I believe Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation being another big one). And yet, we’re still in the same place we were decades ago when it comes to how education is run. It’s not for a lack of trying, but a lack of comprehensive action. Anyone can ask others what they think about the American education system, and how they think it could be improved, and most people would agree that there needs to be some sort of change. But it’s only when...

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