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| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

As Educators Try to Expand 'STEM,' Some Call It Too Broad

By now, even if you have trouble remembering the words that make up STEM, you probably at least have a general sense of what the acronym refers to. (It's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.)

Maybe you've even heard of steam—the movement to add "arts" to the grouping of subjects. Or perhaps you've come across arguments for STREAM (adding reading and arts) or STEMM (STEM + medicine) or STEMSS (STEM + social studies). The expansion possibilities are, apparently, limitless.

But in a recent Vox piece, Danielle Kurtzleben writes that STEM may be "too broad a classification," at least when looking at the job market. She cites a 2014 Government Accountability Office report finding wide variability in employment and wages when STEM fields are further divided into health care, "core STEM" (i.e., life science, computer science, and math), and "other STEM" (i.e., architecture, psychology, and science teaching).

A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences also questioned the usefulness of lumping the disciplines together, noting that doing so can give short shrift to some subjects, usually math. Teachers may also lack the content knowledge to teach all four disciplines.

But for many educators, STEM represents a way of integrating disciplines to make learning more "real world." Former Alabama Teacher of the Year Anne Jolly wrote in an Education Week Teacher piece, "STEM develops a set of thinking, reasoning, teamwork, investigative, and creative skills that students can use in all areas of their lives."But just as many educators are advocating to broaden the STEM acronym, it's worth asking the flip side: Is STEM already too broad? When is differentiating the categories more helpful for teachers and students?"

–Liana Heitin

| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

More Schools Are Addressing Prescription-Drug Abuse

Does your school's drug-abuse-prevention program make a special effort to address prescription-drug abuse? Should it?

More and more districts are making an effort to do so, whether voluntarily or to comply with new state mandates. In Ohio, a new law requires teaching about the dangers of prescription opiates, which are viewed as a gateway to heroin use for teens.

This shift creates an interesting dynamic. Many makers of drug-abuse-prevention curricula have steered away from an approach that warns students against a list of specific taboo substances, instead adopting efforts to bolster personal judgment and decisionmaking. But that approach comes as drugs like synthetic marijuana and prescription painkillers become larger public-health concerns. Lawmakers and educators have responded to those concerns by creating new requirements to specifically address those drugs in schools.

Schools are concerned about prescription-drug abuse, which is a serious health concern on its own, and they are also concerned that it will lead to use of other drugs, such as heroin.

In 2014, 1 percent of 12th graders responding to a federal survey said they'd tried heroin in their lifetimes. Twenty percent said they'd used a prescription drug, and 9.5 percent said they'd used a narcotic other than heroin.

–Evie Blad

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Growing Roster of 'Senior Advisers' Recruited to Back Up Arne Duncan

"Senior adviser" to the U.S. Department of Education—get used to that title. It's becoming very popular these days.

Robert Gordon, who played key roles at the Office of Management and Budget from 2009 to 2013, was nominated as assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy in May. But the U.S. Senate hasn't given him the OK, so Mr. Gordon has been working as a "senior adviser" at the department since September. He's been doing many of the same things he'd be doing if he had been confirmed, in terms of helping steer the policy ship, sources say.

John King left his role as the state chief in New York Jan. 3 to take over what's essentially the No. 2 position at the department, the deputy secretary, again as a senior adviser—without being nominated by President Barack Obama.

And Ericka Miller—who has been nominated as assistant secretary for the office of postsecondary education and was most recently a vice president at the Education Trust—joins the department in an "acting" capacity and as a "senior adviser" for policy and programs.

So is this some new strategy at 400 Maryland Ave. for filling top positions without having to deal with the difficult process of getting nominees through Congress? (Asked about that, the Education Department referred the question to the White House, which never responded.)

But the more important question may be: Is just "acting" in a role, or serving as an adviser, without the fancy, official title going to be a problem when it comes to getting things done?

It shouldn't be, said Mike Smith, who served as undersecretary during the Clinton administration, but also essentially (and unofficially) performed the deputy role at times because Congress never confirmed his nomination.

"It didn't hurt me at all," Mr. Smith said. "I sat in that big office with my own bathroom and looked out at the Holiday Inn" across the street from the department. "[You're] the deputy when [you're] there."

–Alyson Klein

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Jeb Bush, Eyeing Presidential Run, Steps Away From Advocacy Group

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush—who says he is "actively exploring" a run for president in 2016—has now announced that he's ending his relationships with several corporations and nonprofit organizations, including his own K-12 advocacy group, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Washington Post reported Jan. 1.

Mr. Bush's aides told the Post in an email that he was leaving these groups in order to focus more time on politics.

With Mr. Bush as its founder and chairman, the Foundation for Excellence in Education has supported an A-F accountability system, school choice, digital education, and teacher evaluations based on test scores, among other policies. It grew out of the Republican's work during his time as Florida governor from 1999 to 2007, when he oversaw the creation of the state's A-F system and other major changes to public school policy.

The organization has lobbied and otherwise worked closely with officials in Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and elsewhere to adopt and implement those policies, and has actively supported the Common Core State Standards in several states.

Mr. Bush also announced he was ending his relationship with Academic Partnerships, a company that has converted more than 4,000 courses to online formats in over 300 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, according to the company's website. He earned $60,000 a year as a paid adviser, according to the Post, and also owned a small share of the company's stock.

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Proposed Teacher-Prep. Regulations Too Costly, Some in Higher-Ed. Say

The Education Department significantly underestimated how much time and money it would cost states and colleges to put in place new rating systems for teacher preparation, a variety of higher education groups contend in comments to the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

The department estimated that the proposed regulations, published in the Federal Register on Dec. 2, would cost some $42 million over 10 years. But that figure is "astoundingly low," and "artificially low," some higher education groups say in their letters, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The rules would require states to review programs and providers using data from surveys and student achievement results, among other things. Poor-performing ones would eventually not be able to offer federal financial aid in the form of TEACH grants.

The American Council on Education, an umbrella group for many higher education associations, said that even though the federal government has invested in data systems, only nine states can currently link K-12 student data to teacher-preparation programs. Inside Higher Ed also posted a submission from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which noted the costs associated with seeking legislative authority to link teachers, teacher education programs, and students.

–Stephen Sawchuk

Vol. 34, Issue 17, Pages 7, 14

Published in Print: January 14, 2015, as Blogs
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