COMET • Vol. 9, No. 11 – 6 April 2008


(1) “Where’s the ‘T’ in STEM?” by Sean Cavanagh and Andrew Trotter

Source: Education Week – 27 March 2008

In education and business circles, STEM is more than popular jargon–it’s a rallying cry.

The call to improve education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics echoes throughout heavyweight sectors across the American economy, from high-tech companies to defense contractors to major manufacturers, who often say upgrades are critical to spurring innovation.

Yet if STEM’s appeal seems universal, its definition is not.

Many educators and advocates frankly acknowledge that the STEM movement today, at least at the K-12 level, is focused largely on improving performance in math and science, two established subjects in the school curriculum, as a way to prepare students to compete for highly skilled jobs.

Others, meanwhile, see the T and E in STEM education as vital, though often overlooked, pieces of the academic puzzle, even at the K-12 level.

Proponents of technology and engineering studies say those subjects help students acquire valuable interdisciplinary and applied skills in real-world situations, and attract students who are not otherwise drawn to traditional math and science.

“The debate is being driven by people who talk about learning in the science and math disciplines, rather than looking at students who learn in context,” says Raymond V. “Buzz” Bartlett, a former executive for the Lockheed Martin Corp., a leading defense contractor. “We’re convinced that it’s a minority of students who respond to learning by discipline. Most respond to contextual learning.”

Bartlett now helps direct Strategies in Engineering Education K-16, or SEEK-16, a working group of school, college, and business officials who believe the applied and problem-solving skills of studying engineering can attract more students to STEM-related courses and fields.

The organization is looking at ways to promote that study in school and in independent projects, as well as to standardize how engineering is taught in middle and high schools.

Technology–not simply as a tool, but as an area of interdisciplinary study–should also play a part in preparing students for the future economy, advocates say. And many educators see the study of technology as an opportunity to teach students how knowledge, tools, and skills in math and science can be applied to solve practical problems and extend human capabilities.

“For a lot of kids, it’s a lot clearer, with technology, how the science and math come together,” says Shirley M. Malcom, the head of education and human resources for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a worldwide society with headquarters in Washington.

Technology education should include an effort by schools to introduce students to the history and influence of technology in society, Malcom says.

Eleven states, to date, have decided that those benefits are important enough to make completion of a technology education course a requirement for high school graduation.

A number of educators credit Judith A. Ramaley, a former director of the National Science Foundation’s education and human-resources division, with being the first person to brand science- and math-related subjects as STEM.

Before Ramaley took that job in 2001, the more widespread label was SMET, which was used at conferences and in grant proposals by the NSF, a federal agency based in Arlington, Va.

“I always thought it was terrible,” says Ramaley of the SMET initials. “It made me think of many things, but none of them had to do with science and technology.”

While phonetically appealing, the change was made as part of a more significant shift in philosophy at the agency, Ramaley says. The NSF was seeking to devote more resources to promoting science, technology, engineering, and math study among the entire student population–and in society at large–as opposed to simply among a student elite, she says…


NOTE:  Education Week is hosting its second live online chat based on the report, Technology Counts 2008, where the topic will be “Where Are the ‘T’ and ‘E’ in STEM?” This chat will be held on Wednesday, April 9, at 10 a.m. PDT at   Prior to the chat, you may submit questions at


(2) “The Push to Improve STEM Education” by the editors of Education Week

SourceEducation Week – 27 March 2008

[Visit to view all of the articles included in Education Week’s annual Technology Countspublication; this year the focus is on STEM.]

Dating back to the dawn of the Space Race, calls to improve young people’s mastery of the academic material undergirding U.S. technological strength have been a recurrent refrain in American education.

In the past few years, the leitmotif has grown louder, amplified by concerns about competition from well-educated yet lower-paid foreign workers and the perceived precariousness of U.S. prosperity. Business leaders, governors, and others are urging a redoubled commitment to strengthening U.S. students’ preparation to succeed in the subjects known by the increasingly familiar shorthand of STEM.

As Technology Counts makes clear, American education is listening.

The calls to improve education in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics come despite increased expectations over the past quarter-century. In its landmark 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, for example, the National Commission on Excellence in Education cited 1980 data showing that 35 states required students to take only one year of math to earn a high school diploma, and 36 states required only one year of science.

Today, 38 states require at least three years of math or are phasing in that standard. And 35 states require at least three years of science before graduation, or will add that mandate soon.

Yet whether those higher expectations are paying off in the performance needed in a society saturated with sophisticated technology is less clear. Equally uncertain is whether U.S. students have the resources they need, starting with access to fully qualified teachers, to master material that becomes more complex and demanding every year…

Many states, for their part, are buying into the notion that their fates in an increasingly competitive global economy will hinge on how well their young people are equipped to use and create the high-tech tools of tomorrow.

Strategies that states are pursuing include raising the bar for high school coursetaking in math and science; offering monetary incentives for students to enter STEM fields, including teaching; establishing new schools specializing in STEM subjects; strengthening career and technical education; expanding online instruction, including in advanced math and science; and supporting new approaches to STEM instruction, many involving technology.

The federal government, too, is moving to shore up its many efforts to promote STEM education. Among the goals are better coordination among the disparate federal agencies involved in such initiatives, improved dissemination of best practices in STEM education, and stronger research on what works.

Trends in Math and Science

Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show steady improvement in mathematics since 1990. The proportions of 4th and 8th grade students reaching the proficient level on the national test have more than doubled during that period. By contrast, science performance remained largely steady in grades 4 and 8 from 1996 to 2005, while 12th graders posted declines.

Some of the education community’s growing STEM efforts are targeting groups that have underachieved in those subjects or shied away from them, including African-American, Hispanic, and female students. Programs are under way as well to bolster students put at educational disadvantage by poverty, in the hope of cultivating a more diverse talent pool in the STEM fields.

Educators at the grassroots are also working to ramp up competency by taking advantage of the ever-growing supply of STEM-related competitions. Such contests often give students and teachers the chance to experience the STEM disciplines as a whole, with the real-world applications of academic subjects front and center.

That interdisciplinary approach…is being seen by experts as critical for taking the nation’s STEM performance to the next level.

Getting beyond subject-matter silos and melding disciplines is equally apparent in the efforts in teacher education programs to infuse technology directly into the teaching of science and math courses, rather than to provide technology instruction to aspiring educators in a vacuum.

In addition to the articles and data exploring these and other subjects, this year’s Technology Counts again grades the states on their technology leadership and features online-only reports on each state’s performance on the report’s technology indicators. [(See article below.)]


Visit to view the transcript for the April 2 Web chat, entitled ” STEM: The Push to Improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education”


(3) California’s Technology Report Card

Source: Technology Counts 2008

For Technology Counts 2008, the Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center awarded grades for technology leadership to the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Grading is based on 14 individual indicators spanning three core areas of state policy and practice: access to instructional technology, use of technology, and capacity to effectively use educational technology.

Information on technology use and capacity was obtained from a 2007 nationwide survey of state technology officials conducted by the EPE Research Center. Indicators related to educational technology access were derived from a 2005-06 public school survey conducted by Market Data Retrieval, a research company that tracks the use of educational technology, and from background questionnaires administered as part of the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

The EPE Research Center evaluated each indicator, assigning a certain number of points to each. States received credit for the use and capacity indicators only if they could document that the respective policy or practice was in place. Points were tallied within each of the three technology categories, producing scores on a 100-point scale. To generate an overall score, the Research Center computed the average of the three category scores and then converted that total score to a letter grade.

Below are California’s grades (and the national average in parentheses):

— Access to technology: F  (C)
— Use of technology: D+ (B-)
— Capacity to use technology: B-  (C)
— Overall grade: D+  (C+)

Visit for details.


(4) New Data Show Strong Labor Market for Scientists and Engineers

Source: National Science Foundation – 3 April 2008

Science and engineering workforce availability in the United States is under serious scrutiny by observers who worry about a decline in the nation’s ability to fill future demand. However, three newly published National Science Foundation (NSF) reports show increasing supplies of scientists and engineers, as well as a strong labor market.

According to NSF data, the number of individuals working in science and engineering (S&E) occupations grew by 4.3 percent, and their unemployment rate dropped to 2.5 percent in 2006, the lowest unemployment rate since the early 1990s.

Every two years NSF surveys and collects data on scientists and engineers, defined as people with a bachelor’s degree or higher with science, engineering or related degrees or occupations.

NSF collects data on these individuals with three separate national surveys: the National Survey of College Graduates, the National Survey of Recent College Graduates, and the Survey of Doctorate Recipients. Collectively, these surveys are known as the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System, or SESTAT.

The first report records data on the overall science and engineering workforce, specifically the number of individuals working in science and engineering occupations since 2003. See

Nimmi Kannankutty, NSF program manager responsible for compiling the data, said, “On the supply side, we can say that the current S&E labor force is expanding, new graduates are coming out, and people are able to find employment, or are continuing their education.”

Overall unemployment for scientists and engineers in the United States dropped to 2.5 percent in 2006. “The drop was consistent across all degree levels and almost all science and engineering occupations,” notes Kannankutty.

Unemployment rates for the entire U.S. labor force in 2003 and 2006 were 6 percent and 4.7 percent respectively as compared with the 3.2 percent and 2.5 percent posted for scientists and engineers, maintaining the historical norm of lower unemployment rates than for the overall labor market.

These statistics reflect the labor market as of 2006, so are not representative of the current status of the S&E workforce.

A separate NSF report on new graduates also shows potential for a new influx of S&E workers. In 2006, there were 1.9 million new science, engineering and health graduates with degrees earned in academic years 2003 to 2005 in the United States. See

Nearly all of these new graduates either entered the workforce or moved on to higher education. Women made up more than 50 percent of these new science, engineering and health graduates, but this varied by specific field.

The third NSF report on U.S. doctorates shows that 45 percent of those who have earned a doctoral degree in a science, engineering or health field from a U.S. university held a postdoctoral position at sometime in their careers. See  …

“The main purpose of these three reports is to announce the availability of new data on the U.S. science and engineering workforce,” says Kannankutty. “The data show there was a strong labor market for scientists and engineers in 2006.”

NSF will field the next round of the SESTAT surveys of scientists and engineers in fall 2008.


(5) “Calculating a New Approach” by Peg Tyre

Source: Newsweek – 14 March 2008

[Last month], after two years of deliberation, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel released their report aimed at improving math education in this country. And you could almost hear the sound of textbooks–that heavy one in your kid’s backpack, and a stack of high-stakes math tests, the kind your kid take every year–landing in the garbage can with a thud.

The advisory panel, made up of 24 educators and mathematicians, is all for textbooks and testing. In fact, the report specifically endorses regular math assessment. But after months of hearings, the panel was unequivocal that we need to change the way math is being taught–and the way we test it. Right now, it’s simply too broad, too unfocused, repetitious and, in the end, treated too superficially. Instead, the report recommends, “the mathematics curriculum in Grades PreK-8 should be streamlined and should emphasize a well-defined set of the most critical topics in the grades.” Teachers should focus on skills like computing with whole numbers, fractions, geometry and measurement. Most importantly, those skills should be taught in a coherent sequence so that by late middle school, more students have a proper foundation from which to unravel the elegant puzzles of algebra. “Students who complete Algebra II are twice as likely to graduate from college compared to students with less mathematical preparation,” the report says…

Instead, states need to figure out what’s crucial, when to teach it, and make sure teachers follow the formula. “The conversation needs to be, at every grade level, ‘What’s important here?’ ” says Francis (Skip) Fennell, president of the National Council of Teachers of Math, which came up with their own pared-down guidelines for math instruction in 2006, which strongly influenced the math panel’s recommendations….) each have a place…

The report will provide momentum to the small but increasingly influential group of math researchers and educators who see the curriculum used in Singapore, often called Singapore Math, as the gold standard. Singapore math is very lean, says Charles Patton, a software developer at SRI International and math-education researcher who is working with Singapore’s National Institute of Education. The Singapore curriculum flows coherently from one subject to another, culminating in algebra. “If you flip through the pages of an American math textbook and a Singapore math textbook, you begin to understand just how much thought and effort went into sequencing and wording. It is a very powerful and well-engineered tool,” he says.

Since 2006, when the NCTM published its guidelines, several states have begun looking at ways to simplify their math curriculum. But Patton cautions against schools simply grafting Singapore Math textbooks onto their already existing math program. Singapore’s teachers are trained by a single institution, which also provides the math curriculum, tests and textbooks. Teachers get about 100 hours of professional development to work on their instructional skills. “If you simply drop a Singapore math textbook into your math program,” says Patton, “it is bound to fail.”


(6) AMTE: Position Statement Regarding the NMP Report

Source: Nadine Bezuk, Executive Director, Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE)

AMTE has developed a statement in response to the National Mathematics Advisory
Panel’s recently released report. This statement is available for download from the above Web site.