Change the Equation: Why Fixing Public Education is the Private Sector’s Problem Too

Yesterday, my colleague Carlos Contreras – the Intel US Education Manager, attended a White House event where President Obama announced a new non-profit called Change the Equation. Intel is a founding member of the coalition of 107 corporations, and Retired CEO/Chairman of the Board of Intel Corporation Craig Barrett was instrumental in its formation. Listen to Craig speak about the organization:

The companies and CEOs involved share the following goals:

- Great Teaching: Improve STEM teaching at all grade levels, with a larger and more racially, ethnically and gender-diverse pool of highly-capable STEM teachers.

- Inspired Students: Deepen student appreciation and excitement for STEM programs and careers to increase enrollment and success, especially among females and students of color.

- A Committed Nation: Achieve a sustained commitment to the STEM movement from business leaders, government officials, STEM teachers and other stakeholders through communication, collaboration and data-based decision making.

According to Carlos, it all started last November with one blank sheet of paper, a few CEOs and a commitment to improve K-12 STEM Education in the US.

Here’s the story in Carlos’ words:

STEM is not related to stem cells or stems in a plant, it’s an unfortunate acronym that was coined to describe the big education umbrella Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. For those of you that are engineers, it is difficult enough to describe what you do to someone that isn’t an engineer, try explaining STEM. It is a challenge. First some background.

The US trends are fairly stark and have been well documented for almost 20 years. Starting with a Nation at Risk (1983) and most recent Rising Above the Gathering Storm (2007), findings have been fairly consistent:

We need to raise expectations of ALL our students:

- Nation at Risk found that only 31% of high school students completed Algebra plus a significant dilution of curriculum.

- K-12 curriculum materials modeled on a world-class standard foster high-quality teaching with world-class curricula, standards, and assessments of student learning

There is a shortage of highly qualified math and science teachers:

- Nation at Risk found that half of the newly employed math and science teachers are not qualified to teach this subject.

- Rising above Gathering Storm called to annually recruit 10,000 new math and science teachers and strengthen the skills of 250,000 teachers

It is not an exaggeration that we have been overanalyzing the problem, in the year and a half that I have been here in DC, I have about a two-foot stack of reports that revolve around the same two issues. A few more years and I am going to need a new bookcase. Meanwhile our International comparison place the U.S. in the middle of the pack and lower. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) puts U.S. fourth graders and eighth graders about average among industrialized and rapidly industrializing countries. However, U.S. students in fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades drop progressively lower on international comparisons of science and mathematics ability as their grade level increases.

That is right, our student performance drops as their grade level increases. And over time we have not made progress. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), less than one-third of U.S. eighth graders show proficiency in mathematics and science, and science test scores have improved very little over the past few decades.

As the CEOs started to define this new organization and started the recruitment process of fellow companies, a few principles emerged

1) Private sector initiative – Companies have the ability to cross state boundaries, replicate things that work and weigh on importance of STEM with their local communities and elected officials

2) We would not accumulate a large central war chest – We asked companies to invest locally, to tell us what states they were interested in working and which goals they would champion.

3) Move beyond the feel good – Companies realize that their investments can be better leveraged and are looking for results. We want to invest our resources on things that work

4) Collaboration – Private/Public partnership are very complex, business to business collaboration is still complex but communication can be more direct and focused on outputs.

The speed of the newly formed organization that supports Change the Equation has been impressive, especially for an education initiative and it is a reflection of private sector leadership. In the past 8 months we have hired a CEO, recruited over 100 companies, raised $7M, formed a new 501c(3), and officially named the organization. Now the fun begins. Many of you are parents; do you have any ideas on what Change the Equation should be doing to have an impact on your local school or community? I’m interested in your thoughts.

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