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Lifting Off With STEM Education

Yesterday, the CER interns were given the opportunity to complete a private tour of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), located in Greenbelt, Maryland. Touring the facilities was like getting a chance to go to Space Camp for a day, but for a group of college students! We were shown the James Webb Space Telescope, the largest space telescope currently in development. We were also shown around the facilities, which measure frequencies, vibrations, and light in order to best research how these devices will be used in space. We were given the chance to enter a space simulator that made it look – and feel! – like we were orbiting the globe.

Despite the space simulator and flashy gadgets, my favorite part of the day was a working lunch with Dean Kern, the deputy director of the GSFC Office of Education. A former charter school principal, Mr. Kern showed us not only the crucial importance of STEM education, but also how the traditional public school model fails students when it comes to STEM. Despite a modest budget, NASA’s Office of Education is working hard to close the well-documented STEM achievement gap, which fails marginalized minority groups in STEM opportunities. The statistics are staggering: 30% of high schools with the highest percentage of Black and Latino students do not offer chemistry; 25% of these high schools don’t offer Algebra II; and half of our nation’s high schools don’t offer calculus.

High schools should be the place students, especially women and minorities, first develop their interests and passions. With just 20% of the STEM workforce being comprised of women, African Americans, and Latinos it’s obvious NASA has its work cut out for them to truly integrate the field and provide equal opportunities to all. With high standards being set for K-12

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And The Results Are In!

Schooling in America affects every person in this nation and yet everyone involved, whether it be on the policy and reform side of things or those actually in the schools, are not correctly informed about the other side. The policy makers and reformers are not in the classroom and those in the classroom don’t understand the topics and reforms in K-12 education. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice attempts to bridge this gap of understanding by publishing an annual survey that measures public opinion, awareness, and knowledge of these topics. The Center for Education Reform (CER) interns had the pleasure of attending the presentation of the poll results at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and had the amazing opportunity to see our very own Kara Kerwin, president of CER, on the panel and see her in action.

The results of the survey revealed many interesting statistics, but what struck me as the most important was the public’s opinion of where the direction of K-12 education is going and the rating of the federal government’s performance in K-12. Both results showed that Americans have a negative view of the education system. Americans are almost twice as likely to say that our education system has gotten off on the “wrong track” and the majority of them give a negative rating to the federal government’s handling of K-12 matters. Just from these two questions it is easy to see that something must be done to improve K-12 education. The general public has different preferences for schooling than the actual schooling that occurs. If given the choice, many would change the type of school they attend, so why not find a definitive way to give the public this choice?

Everyone believes that something needs to change in education and that we all

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Transforming Decades of Failure

Erin Gruwell, the inspirational teacher behind Freedom Writers, continues to be one of the few educators fueling my desire to teach in a low-income area. Her experience as a transformative educator showed me the power of the teacher in a classroom. However, many teachers remain ineffective in the classroom. The Thomas B. Fordham institute hosted a panel discussion in which individuals talked about their experiences with turnaround school districts in Louisiana, Michigan, and Tennessee.

A turnaround school district is one in which previously failing schools are “turned around” into successful schools through various changes in school leadership. Schools are not being closed or recreated as Chris Barbic, the superintendent of the Achievement School District, and Veronica Conforme, the chancellor of Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority, have made evident. Conforme and Barbic made very clear that turnaround efforts are transforming the neighborhoods into areas of success, not recreating the neighborhoods. This is important to note because it shows that the integrity of the neighborhood is not lost under new school leadership, but rather efforts are made to equip students with the resources to enhance the community in which they live. Turnaround efforts enhance the practices and schools in place. This also helps to encourage community involvement without making it seem like external organizations are imposing themselves upon these communities labeled “failing” and “impoverished”.

Fordham Turnaround PictureIt was interesting to see how improving schools can have a transformative effect on the whole community. Patrick Dobard, the superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District, notes that these turnaround school districts often are in areas of generational poverty and work tirelessly to allow disadvantaged students to escape the cycle of poverty. Poverty places a great burden upon communities, but equipping them with the

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