School & District Management

Business Group Gauges STEM ‘Vital Signs’ Across States

By Erik W. Robelen — September 12, 2012 4 min read
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A collection of state-by-state reports on STEM learning issued today by a business coalition finds that in nearly every state elementary students are getting less instructional time for science than they did in the mid 1990s, and that many students lack access to rigorous STEM courses.

In addition, only five of 37 states where data were available set the standard for science proficiency at or above the level on NAEP, the nation’s report card.

The announcement today from Change the Equation, a coalition of more than 100 corporate CEOs, is a continuation of the STEM advocacy group’s “Vital Signs” series of reports on issues in STEM education.

“States are undertaking a lot of heroic work in STEM education,” said Linda Rosen, Change the Equation’s CEO, in a press release. “We’ve come a long way, but we still have a lot of ground to cover.”

Each four-page state report assembles a variety of statistics, including changes in NAEP math scores, percentages of college graduates who earn STEM degrees, and the extent to which the state’s science teachers took advanced STEM coursework in college.

Change the Equation produced reports for all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. Below, I compare some of the key data points across an arbitrary sampling of states I’ve cobbled together. There’s no magic here. I just tried to blend some of the most populous states with a dose of geographic and economic diversity.

NAEP Math Achievement
Average scale score for 8th graders in 2011, change since 2003

• California: 273 (+6 points)
• Maine: 289 (+7 points)
• Mississippi: 269 (+8 points)
• New Mexico: 274 (+11 points)
• New York: 280 (+1 points)
• North Carolina: 286 (+5 points)
• Ohio: 289 (+7 points)
• Texas: 290 (+13 points)

STEM Pipeline
Percentage of college degrees and certificates earned in STEM fields

• California (10 percent)
• Maine (10.4 percent)
• Mississippi (9.7 percent)
• New Mexico (13.3 percent)
• New York (10.2 percent)
• North Carolina (12 percent)
• Ohio (11.4 percent)
• Texas (12 percent)

Time for Science
Hours students in grades 1-4 spent each week learning science, comparing 2008 with 1994

• California (1.8 hours, down from 3.0)
• Maine (2.2 hours, down from 2.9)
• Mississippi (2.4 hours, down from 2.8)
• New Mexico (2.0 hours, down from 2.8)
• New York (2.5 hours, down from 3.3)
• North Carolina (2.2 hours, down from 3.4)
• Ohio (2.4 hours, down from 2.7)
• Texas (3.3 hours, up from 2.8)

Access to Calculus

Percentage of black and Hispanic students in schools that do NOT offer calculus
• California: Black (26 percent) Hispanic (25 percent)
• Maine: Black (10 percent) Hispanic (11 percent)
• Mississippi: Black (51 percent) Hispanic (49 percent)
• New Mexico: Black (61 percent) Hispanic (53 percent)
• New York: Black (43 percent) Hispanic (36 percent)
• North Carolina: Black (24 percent) Hispanic (28 percent)
• Ohio: Black (43 percent) Hispanic (30 percent)
• Texas: Black (24 percent) Hispanic (25 percent)

Teacher Content Knowledge
Percent of 8th graders whose science teachers took three or more advanced science courses in college
• California (72 percent)
• Maine (47 percent)
• Mississippi (56 percent)
• New Mexico (62 percent)
• New York (82 percent)
• North Carolina (58 percent)
• Ohio (45 percent)
• Texas (59 percent)

Science Labs
8th graders from low-income families whose schools have science labs
• California (84 percent)
• Maine (90 percent)
• Mississippi (60 percent)
• New Mexico (90 percent)
• New York (89 percent)
• North Carolina (85 percent)
• Ohio (78 percent)
• Texas (96 percent)
(Low-income 8th graders whose schools have science labs)

Number of STEM jobs available relative to state’s unemployment figure.

• California (1.4 jobs available)
• Maine (3.3 jobs)
• Mississippi (1.7 jobs)
• New Mexico (2.1 jobs)
• New York (1.7 jobs)
• North Carolina (1.7 jobs)
• Ohio (2.3 jobs)
• Texas (2.5 jobs)

There is lots to mine in these state-by-state reports. From my quick analysis above, I noticed a few things. First, although instructional time for science has declined in most states (grades 1-4), Texas actually saw a fairly significant bump from 1994 to 2008. Makes me wonder what explains that. The data on access to science labs suggests that Mississippi has a long way to go catch up with many other states.

Overall, national data show that 8th graders from low-income families are less likely to have access to science labs, 84 percent, compared with 89 percent for students not living in poverty. However, some states buck that trend, including Texas, where 96 percent of students in both categories have access to science labs, and North Carolina, where a slightly larger share of students from low-income families had such access (85 percent, compared with 84 percent for students not living in poverty.)

The data indicate that, in many states, access to science labs is less common among students from low-income families than those who are not. In Ohio, for instance, 78 percent of low-income students had science labs, compared with 83 percent among their better-off peers.

Also, calculus access among black and Hispanic students showed troubling inequities. Of the eight states I examined closely, these were especially in evidence in Mississippi, New Mexico, and New York. But in all eight states, black and Hispanic students were less likely to have access to calculus than white students.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.

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