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CEOs Urge States to Raise Public School Math and Science Standards

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In order to free colleges from having to remediate students and help make American business more competitive in the field of technological innovation, state governors must maintain or increase academic standards in math and science.

That was the crux of the message delivered at the National Press Club on Thursday during the inaugural policy briefing of Change the Equation. The newly created organization of CEOs seeks to improve STEM education through focused philanthropy and advocacy.

To bolster its case, the organization released a series of “STEM Vital Signs” reports that seek to shine light on math and science assessments on a state-by-state basis. The report also tracks how well the scores correlate with the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Citing reports that detail the declining stature of American education, Change the Equation Board Chairman Craig Barrett why the organization is taking on the education issue.

“What brought companies like Caterpillar, State Farm, Intel, Boeing and GE together to form Change the Equation?” Barrett asked. “Quite frankly, not a damn thing has happened.”

America has been a lackluster educational performer, as measured by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment.

Among the 34 OECD countries, 12 surpassed the United States in the science literacy of their 15-year-olds. Only nine countries had lower scores. Seventeen countries had higher scores than the United States in mathematics, while only five had lower scores

“Yet, we still talk about this topic, committees are studying it, giving recommendations that were given 53 years ago,” Barrett said. “CEOs are tired. We need to start applying data. We need the governors to start standing up.”

Linda Rosen, Change the Equation’s CEO, said the National Governors Association had been briefed on the organization’s “Vital Signs” reports. Phone calls to the NGA requesting comment were not immediately returned Thursday.

Among other things, the “Vital Signs” reports seek to provide a snapshot of what Change the Equation believes states are and aren’t getting right when it comes to math and science standards.

It also seeks to shine the light on instances where considerably more students do better on state assessments in math and science than they do on those subjects in the NAEP.

For instance, in Michigan, one of the reports note, 88 percent and 75 percent of fourth and eighth graders, respectively, scored at or above proficient in math on the 2009 state assessment, but only 35 percent and 31 percent of those students mirrored those results on the 2009 NAEP.

Panelists said it’s time for states to start “telling the truth” about how well students are doing in their states and holding students to higher standards at the state level.

“Pulling the Band-Aid off and telling the truth about our state testing system caused a remarkable amount of pain,” said Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents.

Consequently, Tisch said, New York realigned its standards for proficiency, and many districts were rendered less than proficient in math.

Next month, the state will release data detailing high school graduates’ college readiness.

“In most districts across the state, we’ll be looking at single-digit figures for college preparedness for minorities at risk, for young Black males, for the Hispanic community,” Tisch said. “The numbers are really quite shocking.”

Barrett said more colleges should start demanding that K-12 education do a better job of preparing students for college so that colleges don’t have to spend money on remediation.

He and other panelists also suggested making sure that math and science teachers have mastery of their subjects, and that more is done to relax teacher licensing requirements so that accomplished individuals from STEM fields can teach math and science.

Other speakers included Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools; and Carl Wieman, associate director for science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Casserly said he supported Change the Equation’s call for higher standards and complained about the lack of a national science strategy.

“Each state is free to set its own science standards for what its students should know and be able to do,” he said. “Sometimes these standards are high. Too often they are not. If we can’t decide what we should teach about science, low standing among competitors should come as little surprise.”

Casserly and Barrett also dismissed the notion that increased spending and smaller class sizes at the K-12 level will lead to better results.

Wieman said students will do better in math and science when they are exposed to a “new generation of K-12 teachers” that have gotten education and training in how to implement research-based practices in STEM education.

“When this is achieved, we won’t just be competitive with Singapore, Finland and others,” she said. “We’ll be leaving them far behind.”

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