@Issue Tag

scientist in lab

Women in Science & Technology

@Issue: Women in Science & Technology

In some scientific and technology fields, men outnumber women as much as 7 to 1. The lack of diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields contributes to the earnings gap between men and women in America. It also contributes to higher rates of poverty amongst single mothers who earn less in other fields than they would in STEM related careers. Our young girls lack role models in STEM industries as well as encouragement from society in general to participate in STEM careers.

Gender Diversity Info

Program, Research, Discover, Lead #LikeAGirl

Women provide perspective to a workplace dominated by male personalities. No one sex is superior to the other especially when it comes to the ability to design, develop, innovate, research, etc. and these are essential traits of individuals in STEM fields. Our nation needs more women in technology professions like programming, engineering, information security, and management disciplines. Research is also dramatically lacking in gender diversity, which hurts our ability overall to innovate and develop breakthrough solutions.

There have been numerous attempts at explaining why there is such a massive gender gap between men and women in STEM fields. Explanations include biology (which is nonsense), a lack of interest in school-age children, the “leaky pipeline” excuse, and general stereotypes, amongst others. We believe the only reason why the gap exists is that society and our schools have yet to support a different model. This is why we support organizations like Lean In (http://leanin.org). Inclusion needs to be more status quo than it is today, and the lack of gender diversity in STEM fields is proof of this fact.

Girls are not encouraged to become programmers; they’re told to become housewives. They’re not pushed to become neurosurgeons; they’re told to go into nursing. You do not see commercials enticing young women to go to school to be physicists, but it is nearly impossible to miss ads promoting beauty schools and vocational nursing programs. For the gender gap to disappear, society has to change its ideas on women’s true place in our American society – which is in lock-step with men, not behind them.

For the young girl interested in the sciences, mathematics, or technology there are many hurdles to overcome. The Franklin Foundation will work to remove as many of these as we can – with the help of a few good organizations and people along the way.

So here’s what we’re going to do about it:

1Fund the WiSci and WiTech Programs to get more school-aged girls interested in STEM careers. Our programs are more about immersion and access than just getting girls to show up. By immersing girls in fields where they see their own peers thriving, we give them a shot at dreaming to be an engineer or a chemist or a programmer, or a physicist.

2Partner with organizations that clearly “get it”. We are proud to partner with American companies and non-profit organizations that understand the importance of diversity, and work to ensure everyone is included no matter what their gender, race, socioeconomic background, or identity is.

3Fund projects that are dedicated to ensuring girls have access in key fields like computer programming, cybersecurity, mechanical engineering, advanced mathematics, astrophysics, civil engineering, or chemical engineering, to name a few.

4Lead in areas of research around improving engagement models for women to enter “non-traditional” careers in STEM disciplines. A major prerequsite to fixing a problem, is fully understanding its nuances and causes.

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Education matters

Solving the Funding Inequality issue

The Current State of Public School Funding

When dealing with the issue of public school funding, one is required to look at 3 separate levels of a system that individually aims at noble goals while collectively missing the mark.

The United States spends over $550B per year collectively on public elementary and secondary education. Nationally a whopping $11,000 is spent per elementary student on average, over $12,000 per high school student. While American school spending outpaces the next top spender (Japan) by almost 4 times, American students rank 30th in science and 23rd in science amongst 65 other nations ranked by PISA.

The net result – America is spending more on education and that spending is having less of an impact. But the rub is, where we are spending it. Too much money is being spent on administrative salaries and standardized testing. Too little is actually spent in areas where it can improve outcomes – like areas with low tax bases that depend more on federal and state funding than others.

Federal Dollars are Inadequate…

Federal dollars account for a mere 12% of elementary and secondary education funding in America. The issue with this is one of equality – Federal dollars, more evenly applied across districts and in a larger volume, could help bridge the gap between poorer states and wealthier ones were those dollars equally applied based on need rather than census.

The U.S. Government spends nearly $79B annually on primary and secondary education programs. The majority of this funding is discretionary spending, meaning it is set annually by Congress through the appropriations process which is wrought with inefficiencies and often subject to the political climate at the time. Allocations of federal dollars vary widely by state and are as consistent as the results of elections, varying from as little as 5% of the total spend to as much as 16%.

Most of today’s Federal funding is allocated to No Child Left Behind Title I grants and IDEA special education grants for states. Additionally, funding is also administered through The Department of Agriculture’s child nutrition program, the Department of Health and Human Service’s Head Start program, and Youth Build which is a program of the Department of Labor.

The issue here is that federal funding comes with a carrot…schools have to follow poorly conceived and subjectively applied standards, with no real goal of improving educational outcomes, at a relative high cost which ends up simply deflecting additional costs put there by the legislation in the first place.

In case you’re wondering, yes, we’re talking about Common Core…again. This idea that all children should be college ready is foolish as it ignores the vast majority of career disciplines that we need nationally to maintain our infrastructure and keep America going strong into the next century.

U.S. Funding Sources for
Elementary & Secondary Education (2012 data)

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Courtesy: National Center for Educational Statistics

State Funding is routinely inconsistent…

States rely primarily on income and sales taxes to fund their schools. Some rely on property taxes as well or a mix of the three. Complex rules and formulas often determine allocations which tend to be inconsistent relying heavily on headcount and using weights that are sometimes disproportionate. Weights for the number of students living at or below the poverty line, students with disabilities, and/or students for whom English is a second language are often reasons for their formulaic weights. States that use property taxes for funding have a greater disparity in funding and quality than states that do not. State funding tends to be poorly prioritized, with urban school districts seeing fewer resources even though their needs are greater in population, distribution, and income levels.

One of the biggest issues we’ve seen in our home state is the overzealous applications of tax abatements by state and local leaders. Tax abatements; which usually are offered to companies as part of a package to attract them to open a business in a state in the first place; are often over-leveraged effectively starving already cash-strapped school districts of the much-needed state and municipal funding.

This issue is much more dramatic in some states than others. Our home state of Pennsylvania is the worst in the country when it comes to education funding inequality.

Localized Funding ensures disparity…

Localized funding relies completely on property taxes in most jurisdictions; others have an individual school tax that is based on a property tax formula. Wealthier, property-rich localities often can collect more taxes making them disproportionately funded. Elected school boards control funding allocation making the idea of School Boards more about money and politics and less about the quality of education. Funding under these conditions is rarely consistent, as allocations often change although taxation amounts do not.

What Concerns The Franklin Foundation

A general lack of transparency about budgeting & spending processes in most larger urban school districts creates significant financial disparities amongst the schools in that district and contributes to massive budget shortfalls. These disparities decrease learning quality due to the existence of less modern facilities, instruction materials, and lower-paid educators who are more like social workers who teach when compared to their suburban peers. Larger cities, oddly enough, attract higher-paid administrators who perform less effectively than their lower-paid peers in more affluent districts making inefficiency a major factor in the fight for funding equality.

Funding in school districts in the same state can be widely disparate due to differences in funding sources, populations, etc. The Federal Government’s “equity factor”, which was implemented as part of Title I, Part A of the No Child Left Behind Act measures school finance equity but does little to stem the gaps that exist due to favorability shown toward pet projects of the administration in power, or legislative committee interests.

Education funding is widely inconsistent and disparate, forcing school districts around the country to plan for budgets that may not be fully funded by the end of the fiscal year. This creates a climate where educators and administrators are tense, fearing next-year consequences to unanticipated budget shortfalls.

Plain and simple, we believe funding needs to be more even across the board. General costs should be studied, discussed, normalized and adjusted accordingly. The Federal Government, given its fiduciary stake in National Security, should chip in the difference and shortfalls from state and municipal funds. The Federal primary and secondary education budget should be at least 3 times what it is today simply because today’s child will need to be tomorrow’s engineer, teacher, senator, submarine captain, computer scientist, CEO, or virologist.

“The only way to ensure our nation’s long-term security is through the development of an educated populous…and that is what makes public schools so critical.”

– Endre Jarraux Walls
Chairman, The Franklin Foundation

So here’s what we’re going to do about it:

1Work at all levels to educate lawmakers, administrators, educators, and most importantly, parents about why the system, not our teachers, is failing our children and how we can make it better. Help lawmakers understand that consistent and predictable funding is necessary for our long-term national security and to create a climate where learning outcomes and not resources are the focus of administrators.

2Encourage parents and administrators to take action to make funding more consistent and equitable. Support lawmakers in an effort to promote even and consistent funding without increasing the burden on individual taxpayers.

3Use Philanthropic Funding along with sponsorships to lessen the burden of schools where potential is high but resources are low. Identify systems that are working and replicate their success to those that are struggling.

4Remove the “Carrots” by working with federal policy makers to improve school funding based on a national per student baseline. This would provide relief to school districts nationwide while putting federal dollars in the right places without politicizing education.

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PARCC paperwork

End Toxic Testing

To explain what’s wrong with Toxic Testing

we have to start at the beginning…

So what is NCLB (No Child Left Behind)?

NCLB was an act of Congress put in place in 2001 that reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or ESEA. This included Title I, the government’s flagship aid program for disadvantaged students. NCLB supports standards-based education reform that was based on the premise that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education.

The Act requires states receiving Title 1 funds to develop assessments in basic skills. To receive funding, states must give these assessments to all students at select grade levels. The Act falls short of establishing a national achievement standard, creating disparity in implementation from state-to-state. NCLB went a step further than ESEA, expanding the federal role in public education through annual testing, funding changes, teaching qualifications, annual academic progress, and even report cards.

The Act also introduced the idea of “school choice”, making it easier for parents to send their children to charter schools.

It all sounds good in theory, so what happened?

We have found that most laws related to education at the state and federal level are well intended but have consequences outside of the design of the law. This is mostly because policymakers continuously fail to bring the right people to the table when forming these policies and standards. 

Gifted students have become increasing “left behind” because the NCLB act pressures schools to guarantee that the majority of its students will meet the minimum skill levels presented in the standard. Essentially we are pushing our schools to do just enough but not achieve. The law does not require programs for gifted or talented students and offers very little funding for such efforts which is a huge mistake. We are ignoring one set of students in favor of another instead of helping all students achieve and reach their potential.

The goals set by NCLB are for the most part, unrealistic. This is because the standard assumes that all children learn the same, have similar supports at home, have similar interests and aptitudes, etc. Essentially, NCLB fails to individualize learning, which has a large impact on students and teachers trying to find the right mix of individualized learning and rigorous structure in their learning environments.

The push for standardized tests is another dimension to the issues with NCLB. There have already been dozens of examples from state-to-state where schools have manipulated test results to gain incentives. Moreover, the preparation required for the tests takes critical instruction time away from classrooms. The stress on students having to take these tests is palpable and is resulting in continuously declining scores.  Standardized tests also affect English as a second language (ESL) and minority students due to cultural bias which affects how students from various backgrounds interpret the terms used in test questions. 

Children with disabilities are significantly affected by NCLB because the variables involved in their learning outcomes are not at all taken into consideration as the law is written today. Additionally, standardized tests for this group of learners is not at all tailored to their needs, making the results mostly useless in determining educational efficacy. 

The Franklin Foundation for Innovation formally supports the opt-out movement nationwide because we feel standardized tests, in their current form, fail to assess students adequately and are therefore detrimental to our public education infrastructure.

Standardized testing is the wrong way to measure pretty much everything.

NCLB and ESEA before it, make the mistake of relying on standardized test scores to determine the efficacy of education in schools. All a standardized test can assess is how well a student can remember the facts and figures they were taught weeks before the test. More important dimensions of learning, like comprehension and application of material, are not tested in today’s standardized tests. Another issue is the way standardized tests score – 4 choices, only 1 right answer and no ability to adapt for depth. Some companies have tried to fix this issue, but their tests are just as inefficient, scoring children’s abilities against a median and saying whether or not a child’s performance is at, above, or below proficiency.

Standardized tests are also used to measure teacher quality and effectiveness which is a mistake. Teachers should be evaluated; students should be assessed. Standardized tests are the wrong marker for measuring educational effectiveness, and given their exorbitant costs, are part of a flawed system.

Success Assessment

A new system is needed.

A system where we assess our children as individuals, with the goal of helping parents and educators build actionable plans for improving educational outcomes is the right approach. A return of the standards-based peer-led evaluation system for our educators is the fairest and most productive way to evaluate teacher performance as it relates to instructional proficiency. With all of the factors that can affect a child’s learning, blaming teachers for student test scores makes little sense.

What makes this a social problem?

NCLB, ESEA and any re-writes using the same antiquated models and philosophy will result in the continued decline of our public schools. National education policy needs to be written from scratch taking modern philosophies from actual practitioners and parent into account. Each state should re-evaluate its education policy to ensure all children receive an education that is tailored for their success. Our education system should position education as the great equalizer capable of enabling children to overcome their circumstances. A system where children are left behind, is a system where generations are left out of their fair share of opportunity.

Assessments need to change to a model made more adaptive and less focused on right vs. wrong, more focused on the way the student came to the answer, and the use of that data to improve each individual child’s learning outcomes.

Evaluations for teachers need to take the delivery of curriculum and classroom engagement into effect. The current system not only incorrectly penalizes good teachers for learning factors out of their control, but places a stigma on becoming a public school teacher in the first place. Fewer college students interested in becoming teachers will mean a more condensed workforce where wealthier schools will get the first access to talent, leaving poorer districts in a rut they will find it impossible to get out of, further extending the already massive achievement gap, especially in areas where minorities account for the larger portion of the learning population.

So Here’s what we’re going to do about it:

1Build a coalition of educators and parents in every state to create new conversations with policymakers around education policy. These state councils will help develop the dialogue and data necessary to help change narratives at the state level. Combined with our grassroots affiliates, we will change the way leaders think, which should change the way they legislate.

2Continue to encourage parents to opt-out. We believe the opt-out movement is critical to putting an end to standardized testing once and for all. Parents have the right to take control over their children’s educations, and opting-out of toxic testing is the right first step in taking back our public schools.

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