From STEM to STEAM: Science and art go hand-in-hand

In the wake of the recent recession, we have been consistently apprised of the pressing need to revitalize funding and education in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math, Scientific American reports. Doing this, we are told, will spur innovation and put our country back on the road to prosperity. Renewing our focus on STEM is an unobjectionably worthwhile endeavor. Science and technology are the primary drivers of our world economy, and the United States is in the lead. But there is a growing group of advocates who believe that STEM is missing a key component one that is equally deserved of renewed attention, enthusiasm and funding. That component is the Arts. If these advocates have their way, STEM would become STEAM. Their proposition actually makes a lot of sense, and not just because the new acronym is easy on the ears. Though many see art and science as somewhat at odds, the fact is that they have long existed and developed collaboratively. This synergy was embodied in great thinkers like the legendary Leonardo Da Vinci and the renowned Chinese polymath Su Song. One of Carl Jung’s mythological archetypes was the artist-scientist, which represents builders, inventors, and dreamers…

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Gardens blooming at schools teach nutrition, science, teamwork

Gathered in the large garden behind an elementary school here, a group of kindergartners watched as their teacher snipped some basil, let them smell the leaves, and then did the same with oregano, the Associated Press reports.

“We do a lot of smelling out there. Looking. Digging,” the teacher, LeaAnne Pillers, said. She took her class to the garden two or three times a week after it opened last spring at Moss Haven Elementary, and she’s excited to get her new group out among the plants when school starts next week.

One of their first lessons: learning the five senses. “We’ll be able to do a lot with `What does it look like? What does it feel like?’ Some of it we’ll even be able to taste,” Pillers said.

Moss Haven’s garden is among a growing number being planted in schoolyards across the country. It is part of an American Heart Association initiative to get kids to eat healthier. Along with nutrition, school gardens also can teach lessons about the environment and science, teamwork, math skills and leadership, proponents say…

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ACT scores steady, show signs of small progress

The new ACT scores indicate increased science and math readiness.

Average scores on the ACT exam held steady for the high school class of 2012 but the results show modest progress in the number of students who appear ready for college-level work in math and science.

The scores, being released Aug. 22, cover the first-ever class in which more than half of graduates nationally took the ACT. Traditionally the ACT has been a rival college entrance exam to the SAT, but it is now taken by almost all students in nine states, and by at least 60 percent of graduates in 26 states.

The average national composite score was 21.1 (on a scale of 1 to 36), unchanged from the class of 2011. The percentage who earned scores that ACT calculates indicate they’re ready for college in all four subjects — English, reading, math and science — was also unchanged at 25 percent.

But the percentage earning scores indicating readiness for college in science has increased from 28 percent to 31 percent since 2009, and in math from 42 percent to 46 percent.

Such numbers still aren’t great — 28 percent of ACT-tested graduates failed to meet the college readiness benchmark in any of the four subjects. But the fact that overall scores have held steady even as the test-taking pool widens, and that math and science marks have improved, is considered positive.

“There’s just all these countertrends that would typically pull scores down,” said Jon Erickson, education president of ACT, an Iowa City, Iowa-based nonprofit. “To hold scores is a good sign. To see science and math increasing the last five years — not rapidly but positively and steadily — those are two really good signs.”

Erickson credited an aggressive push to improve teaching in the so-called “STEM” fields — science, technology, engineering and math — by states such as North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, Massachusetts and Iowa. The scores could also reveal some early fruits of states moving toward the adoption of a common core curriculum.

Still, overall readiness scores remain much lower in science and math compared to English and reading. Nationally, just 46 percent of students of the record 1.66 million who took the exam met the national benchmark in math, as did 31 percent in science, compared to 67 percent in English and 52 percent in reading.

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New national poll reveals public’s thoughts on education

A new poll reveals thoughts on illegal immigrants and education, bullying, and more.

Americans have a number of conflicting viewpoints in their preferences for investing in schools, going head-to-head on issues like paying for the education of the children of illegal immigrants, according to the 2012 annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

There are clear partisan divides over whether children of illegal immigrants should receive free public education, school lunches, and other benefits, with 65 percent of Democrats versus 21 percent of Republicans favoring it. Overall, support for providing public education to these children is increasing. Forty-one percent of Americans favor this, up from 28 percent in 1995.

Americans are also more divided across party lines than ever before in their support for public charter schools, with Republicans more supportive (80 percent) than Democrats (54 percent). However, approval declined overall to 66 percent this year from a record 70 percent last year. Additionally, the public is split in its support of school vouchers, with nearly half (44 percent) believing that the nation should allow students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense, up 10 percentage points from last year.

Though Americans clearly have opposing stances on many education issues, when the poll — conducted annually by Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) in conjunction with Gallup — asked Americans whether they believe Common Core State Standards would provide more consistency in the quality of education between school districts and states, 75 percent said yes. In fact, more than half of Americans (53 percent) believe common core state standards would make U.S. education more competitive globally.

Ninety-seven percent of the public also agrees that it is very or somewhat important to improve the nation’s urban schools, and almost two of three Americans (62 percent) said they would pay more taxes to provide funds to improve the quality of urban schools. Eighty-nine percent of Americans agree that it is very or somewhat important to close the achievement gap between white students and black and Hispanic students.

And though Americans are almost evenly split in their support for requiring that teacher evaluations include how well students perform on standardized tests, with 52 percent in favor, they are in agreement about increasing the selectivity of teacher preparation programs. In fact, at least three of four Americans believe that entrance requirements into teacher preparation programs need to be at least as selective as those for engineering, business, pre-law, and pre-medicine.

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Math education: What’s the problem?

A new report claims that taking algebra too early is detrimental to students’ math education.

A new report from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) tackles the U.S. algebra and mathematics dilemma and is the latest to suggest that not all students should be pushed to take algebra in the eighth grade.

Solving America’s mathematics education problem,” by Duke professor Jacob L. Vigdor, examines cultural shifts that have resulted in new waves of interest in students’ mathematics performance.

Despite a renewed focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills, high school students continue to perform poorly on math tests. That trend continues into college, where many new college students enroll in remedial math courses. The report notes that “the proportion of new college graduates who majored in math-intensive subjects has declined by nearly half over the past 60 years.”

The U.S. is in danger of slowed or lost progress if these trends continue, the report warns.

See also:

New math software targets ‘perceptual learning’

Projects test real-world use of math as learning tool

Column: Why our kids hate math

Moving students through algebra and other higher-level math courses can hurt their knowledge and performance if they enter the classes too soon. For example, in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, students who took algebra earlier than their peers scored 13 percentile points lower on a standardized test than students who took algebra on a regular schedule.

Some districts have tried to close the math achievement gap by excluding more challenging math topics. But this “dumbing down” hurts students who might want to pursue math majors in college and math-related careers, because they leave high school without skills that other students–their competition in college and the workforce–possess. Over the past 30 years, average SAT math scores have increased 20 points, but there has been a 25 percent drop in the number of college students majoring in math-centered subjects, according to recent research noted in the report.

“The root of America’s math problem is the conflation of two goals: improving the absolute performance of American students and closing gaps between high and low performers,” Vigdor notes. “Following the failure of a significant initiative to accomplish both goals simultaneously—the ‘new math’ movement of the mid-twentieth century—successive reforms have focused attention on bringing lower-performing students up to standards. In the process, the standards have been lowered, and the advancement of higher-performing students has been allowed to languish. Designers of the nation’s mathematics curriculum, in short, have fallen into an ‘achievement-gap trap,’ raising the relative performance of average students in part by permitting the absolute performance of the best students to decline.”

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20 strange things schools have banned

Hey kids, it’s time to head back to school — but don’t even think about bringing that Boobie bracelet. A Pennsylvania school district’s ban on breast cancer fundraising bracelets that say “I [heart] Boobies,” is about to be presented to a three-judge panel, according to NBC News, the Huffington Post reports. Two students from the school were suspended for wearing the bracelets to a school dance back in 2010, according to NBC. School authorities have pushed strange rules all over the map. In Ottawa, St. Joseph High School said no to yoga pants, claiming they were too tight and violated the school’s dress code. In Brampton Ont., one elementary school’s “no loving, not shoving” policy to avoid unwanted touching led to a ban on hugging. And in the U.K., one school banned students from having best friends to avoid groupism, according to the U.K.’s Sun…

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Indiana public schools wage unusual ad campaign

Struggling Indiana public school districts are buying billboard space, airing radio ads and even sending principals door-to-door in an unusual marketing campaign aimed at persuading parents not to move their children to private schools as the nation’s largest voucher program doubles in size, the Associated Press reports. The promotional efforts are an attempt to prevent the kind of student exodus that administrators have long feared might result from allowing students to attend private school using public money. If a large number of families abandon local districts, millions of dollars could be drained from the state’s public education system.

“If we don’t tell people the great things that are happening in our schools, no one else will, especially not now,” said Renee Albright, a teacher in Fort Wayne. “There are private enterprises that stand to benefit if they can portray us as failed schools.”

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Court: Ala can’t check student immigration status

Part of Alabama’s immigration law that ordered public schools to check the citizenship status of new students was ruled unconstitutional Monday by a federal appeals court that also said police in that state and Georgia can demand papers from criminal suspects they have detained, the Associated Press reports. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Alabama schools provision wrongly singles out children who are in the country illegally. Alabama was the only state that passed such a requirement and the 11th Circuit previously had blocked that part of the law from being enforced. Judges said fear of the law “significantly deters undocumented children from enrolling in and attending school ….” Both private groups and the Obama administration filed lawsuits to block the law considered the toughest in the country. The court, however, upheld parts of immigration laws in Alabama and Georgia allowing law enforcement to check documents for people they stop…

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Schools using cutting-edge market research to get kids to eat healthy

There will be more whole grains on school lunch menus this year, along with a wider selection of fruits and vegetables and other healthy options. The challenge is getting children to eat them, the Associated Press reports.

“We don’t want healthy trash cans. We want kids who are eating this stuff,” said Kern Halls, a former Disney World restaurant manager who now works in school nutrition at Orange County Public Schools in Florida.

At a School Nutrition Association conference in Denver this summer, food workers heard tips about how to get children to make healthy food choices in the cafeteria. The problem is a serious one for the nation’s lunch-line managers, who are implementing the biggest update to federal school-food guidelines in 15 years…

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NC district cuts teacher pay to provide laptops for students

After making the controversial decision to cut teacher pay and 65 staff members — including 37 teachers — in favor of providing students with a laptop, Mooresville public schools in North Carolina ranks third in test scores and second in graduation rates, the New York Times reports. Three years ago, Superintendent Mark Edwards elected to issue laptops to 4,400 fourth through 12th graders in five schools, using funds that would otherwise have gone to paying teachers. At the time, 73 percent of Mooresville’s students tested proficiently in math, reading and science. Today, that number is up to 89 percent, to complement an 11-percent increase in the district’s graduation rate from 2008-11. These gains have been made possible despite Mooresville ranking 100th out of 115 North Carolina school districts in per-pupil spending at $7,415.89 per year. According to the Times, the new initiative is costing the district just over $1 million

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