A True “Opportunity Equation”

In recent months, we have significantly raised the stakes when it comes to education improvement.  The economic stimulus bill makes clear that the success of our economy depends on the improvement of our schools.  The Data Quality Campaign (along with additional stimulus dollars) have focused on the need to improve data collection at the state level.  The recent release of NAEP long-term data pointed to the push for continued accountability.  And the most recent announcement of progress in the national standards movement — namely the National Governors Association/Council of Chief State School Officers push — have only increased the volume.

But what, exactly, are we improving?  A little more than a month ago, President Barack Obama spotlighted the need to redouble our commitment to science-technology-engineering-mathematics, or STEM, education.  Today, the Carnegie Corporation of New York-Institute for Advanced Study Commission on Mathematics and Science Education amplified the instructional content call even further.  In releasing The Opportunity Equation: Transforming Mathematics and Science Education for Citizenship and the Global Economy, Carnegie provided a useful blueprint for moving our rhetorical commitment to improvement and STEM education into actionable items, issuing a true call to action to policymakers and educators committed to improving our nation and our economy by strengthening our academic offerings.
Specifically, Opportunity Equation issued a clarion call on four key issues:
* The need for higher levels of mathematics and science learning for all American students
* Common standards in math and science that are fewer, clearer, and higher, couple with aligned assessments
* Improved teaching and professional learning, supported by better schools and system management
* New designs for schools and systems to deliver math and science learning more effectively
Surely we have seen reports like these before.  Many issue broad platitudes.  Others are chock full of process, with little in terms of outcome.  And others still simply preach in a vacuum, demonstrating a glaring lack of understanding about our schools, particularly those students that need STEM the most.  So what makes Carnegie’s report so different than those that have come before it?
First, Opportunity Equation clearly identifies those stakeholders most important to STEM education and assigns them specific responsibilities in the improvement effort.  Throughout its report, Carnegie lays out the action stems that the federal government, states, schools and school districts, colleges and universities, unions, businesses, nonprofit organization, and philanthropy must play.  School improvement is a team game, and Carnegie has drawn up specific plays so that every stakeholder — particularly teachers and schools — has a chance to get on the court at some point during the game.
Second, it combines the requisite inputs with the necessary outcomes.  Too often, reports like this are forced to either embrace the status quo, essentially serving as a consensus document designed to make all parties happy.  Such papers focus on inputs, talking about what is possible, but ignore the outcomes that are necessary to measure true improvement.  Carnegie makes clear that process is important.  But it makes clearer that the best intentions in the world are meaningless if we aren’t delivering measurable results on the back end.  Student results, data, measurement, and accountability are key components to the Carnegie plan.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Carnegie recognizes that STEM education is for all students, and that all students should be held to higher, clearer standards (with similar accountability).  For years now, Eduflack has heard many an educator and policymaker push back that STEM education isn’t for everyone.  Our future rocket scientists and brain surgeons may benefit from STEM, but it is unnecessary for the “average” student.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Every student benefits from STEM education, particularly if that student is interested in going on to postsecondary education or holding a job after finishing their schooling.  Carnegie puts this fact front and center.  Effective STEM instruction is not about cherry-picking.  It is about a rising tide lifting all boats, providing all students — particularly those who have been left behind or neglected in the past — with the skills and instruction they need to achieve in the 21st century global classroom and workplace.
Opportunity Equation also demonstrates a nimbleness that we rarely see in studies of this sort.  The report boasts a Who’s Who on its roster of Commission members.  Usually, such a roll call means this report was in the can for months, undergoing proofing and design and gut checks to make sure all were comfortable with the language.  But Carnegie has done two things here to dispel the pattern.  First, its four priorities align with the four policy pillars put forward by EdSec Arne Duncan and the US Department of Education.  Second, Opportunity Equation calls on stakeholders to endorse the NGA/CCSSO Common Standards effort, and effort that just went public a little more than a week ago.  Relevancy is always a good thing.
In Opportunity Equation, Carnegie Corporation has clearly informed audiences on what is necessary to improve math and science instruction in the United States, building a stronger pipeline for both the economy and the community.  As Eduflack has lectured far too often, that is merely step one of effective public engagement.  Now that the inform stage is completed, it now falls to Carnegie and its supporters to build commitment to the model laid out by Carnegie and then mobilize stakeholders around the specific actions called for in the report.  
Carnegie offers yet another GPS unit for guiding us through the complexities of school improvement toward a final destination of a STEM-literate society equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary for academic and life success.  It is now up to the wide range of stakeholders (those identified by Carnegie) to actually plug the unit in and let it guide us.  Opportunity Equation provides those turn-by-turn directions to get us to the results we seek.  We just need to follow the guidance.

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