A recent Education Week blog post entitled “STEM Reforms in Needy Schools Eroded Quickly” painted a disappointing picture of STEM education reform. In this post, part 2 of a 2-part series* from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), Adaliz Gonzalez (the Citywide Instructional Lead for Middle School Science in the Department of STEM at the New York City Department of Education) responds.
Common definitions of STEM focus on the seamless integration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Such integration works well when teachers, who are the experts and responsible parties of delivery of instruction in schools, have initial training, time to plan collaboratively, and (most important) common belief about how students learn best. The National Research Council has stated (and it is well known) that state assessments are not aligned to any STEM program, nor do they assess students’ performance in the progression of knowledge as STEM programs deliver instruction. Therefore, schools districts or schools interested in developing and incorporating STEM programs should think about (1) ways to integrate formative and summative assessments that evaluate student performance around content knowledge and skills necessary in STEM education, and (2) the development of performance tasks that can be used as interim assessments aligned to STEM education and that can inform teachers and school leaders about students’ readiness for state assessments.
Ask the Right Questions, Right from the Beginning
Districts such as Buffalo and Denver implemented STEM programs in struggling schools as a way to remediate and/or motivate students. However, the question for these districts should be: What needs assessments were conducted that informed plans about the deficiencies of students and pedagogy and that would inform sudden reforms that included implementing STEM programs? What steps were taken to help develop a shared vision and to understand teachers’ beliefs about how these students learn best (as well as the common interest combined with aspirations prior to implementing STEM programs in struggling schools)? Part of the failure of STEM programs could be the result of jumping onto the STEM bandwagon too quickly and pushing programs without proper training and transition and without taking into consideration the complexity of what STEM in schools encompasses.
The report states that programs “were cut or watered down, due in part to challenges balancing graduation requirements and STEM courses, accountability measures, and students’ preparedness.” The conclusion is that no one can measure the effectiveness of a program that is implemented one year and then changed over the next few years to meet different requirements. Second, state accountability measures, students’ preparedness, scheduling and teacher programs, and graduation requirements are part of a thoughtful planning process that must happen prior to implementation.
For effective implementation of STEM programs, school leaders need to ensure that there is a gradual change in the school culture, creating one that nurtures trust, collaboration, and innovative thinking. Second, schools in which most of the population receives free or reduced lunch depend greatly on federal and state funds as well as grants that can enhance what is offered to students to enrich their academic repertoire and provide them with a different perspective on how they can use their knowledge and expand their perspective of the career world. However, one common mistake made by schools is to allow their vision to be shaped by these programs and grants, which commonly run out and end after a period of time. Prior to implementing any program or applying for grants, schools teams need to ask: How will this initiative enhance our current curricular offerings? How can this STEM program be a sustainable practice?
Creating STEM programs in schools must do four basic things:
- Create a shared vision and culture of trust, collaboration, and innovative thinking.
- Develop curriculum guides and instructional programs that include integration of content, development of skills across subjects, and extracurricular activities aligned to students’ interest and instructional offerings.
- Have a plan to align the use of resources, human capital, outside organizations, school and outside funds toward achieving the vision for STEM education, as well as aligning key partnerships that will contribute to a sustainable culture and the following of best practices in STEM education.
- Provide all students with opportunities and awareness of requirements to be highly motivated and pursue STEM careers and college paths.
Successful STEM reform addresses these issues from the start. I will be presenting examples of schools that implemented STEM programs, creating sustainable practices that promoted successful implementation of STEM education, on November 7 in the NSTA Virtual Conference Shifting to Integrated STEM: Experiences of Three School Districts. My co-presenters and I will give several examples in which systemic changes have brought about significant improvements in STEM teaching and learning. We will also discuss what it takes to implement such changes, including the absolute requirement of support by top leaders. Learn more and register. Register early by Friday, October 9, and save $10 off your registration fee: Use promo code NOV_SAVE10.
Adaliz Gonzalez is the Citywide Instructional Lead for Middle School Science in the Department of STEM at the New York City Department of Education. She served as a science and math teacher for eighth grade bilingual students in Inwood Intermediate School in New York City for over ten years, and as a Peer Instructional Coach, mentoring colleagues in the understanding using the new teacher reflection rubric.
*Read Part 1: Successful STEM Reform: Leadership Is Key
The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.