All posts by Allison Armour-Garb

What is the STEM skills gap?

Part three of an ongoing series based on our recent PPI report: Bridging the STEM skills gap: Employer/educator collaboration in New York

New York created close to 100,000 jobs between December 2015 and December 2016. Yet in many regions of the state the population is not growing.  (Population increases downstate and in the Capital Region/Hudson Valley, driven by the birth rate and immigration from foreign countries, are offset by upstate outmigration to other states.)  This means that employers who want to fill jobs are increasingly forced to select from the existing pool of potential workers. Nationally, the economy has added 11.6 million jobs since the recession bottomed out in 2010, and 99% of those have gone to workers with at least some college education, according to Anthony P. Carnevale and his team at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.  Since the recession hit in 2008, they found, there has been a net loss of 5.5 million jobs that required only a high school diploma.

STEM jobs, in particular, are growing at a faster rate than overall employment and require higher skill levels than do many jobs in retail, food service, and hospitality. Consistent with these trends, executives responding to a 2017 Public Policy Institute survey reported that health occupations and skilled production—both of which are STEM fields—are the categories in which they had the largest numbers of job openings in 2016.

As technology evolves, the skills that STEM employers seek are changing faster than our education system has traditionally been able to adapt to meet them.  Thus, the skills gap—a divide between the skills employers need and the skills workers possess—is a threat to New York’s competitiveness in the global economy.  Caught in the crunch, New York’s employers have taken the lead in investing in and partnering with education and training providers, in order to maximize the potential of workers in their own communities.

  • What kinds of institutions and programs are employers partnering with?
  • What do these partnerships look like in practice?
  • What are their main goals, and how successful are they?
  • What policy changes could make them even more successful?

Over the coming weeks, this blog series will describe how well-designed collaborative programs can take underperforming students, who might otherwise have dropped out of high school or required remedial classes in college, and get them back on track.  Working together, employers and educators are providing these students with the academic, technical, and professional skills and credentials they need to succeed in a STEM career.

Such programs are being replicated across New York State, but the funding needed to sustain them is not guaranteed, and they still serve only a fraction of the students and communities who could benefit.  If New York wants to maximize the economic future of its students and its businesses, creating model programs is not enough.  Policymakers, education leaders, and employers need to take the next step, using a data-driven approach to rethink and retool our entire education system with the goal of ensuring college- and career-readiness for all P-12 students, and completion of a degree or employer-recognized credential for all postsecondary students.  If it is willing to commit the necessary resources, New York has the opportunity to solidify its position as a leader—not just in designing and creating, but in scaling and sustaining innovative models that bring educators and employers together to meet the workforce needs of the 21st century.

Read part two of the series here.

The “Every Student Succeeds Act” offers New York a critical opportunity to focus K-12 accountability on college and career readiness

Part two of an ongoing series based on our recent PPI report: Bridging the STEM skills gap: Employer/educator collaboration in New York

The priorities of our K-12 education system are not always in sync with economic opportunities—an insight repeatedly noted by the employers and STEM experts who participated in the Public Policy Institute’s 2017 research on the skills gap.  Not only do our schools sometimes funnel students toward courses and credentials that lack value outside the academy, the education establishment may also (albeit unintentionally) perpetuate the stigma associated with career-oriented courses and programs.

Whereas business people are accustomed to designing products and processes to satisfy the needs and wants of particular customers, and success is measured by the bottom line, our education system is more complex.  It must prepare students not only for academic success, but also to be ready to join the workforce, shoulder the responsibilities of citizenship, and live well-adjusted, fulfilling lives as members of their community.  To help ensure that they are preparing students in all of these areas, schools have to look not only at whether students are getting through their classes.  They also need to look beyond themselves to see how their alumni are doing when they get to the next level, whether it be higher education or the workforce.

Bruce Hamm, Director of Business Engagement at the Manufacturers Association of Central New York, underlines this point: “The metric for high school success is graduation.  They’re not asking are they going to be successful in college, they’re saying, ‘Let’s get them out of high school.’”  The same problem applies to post-secondary institutions. “The colleges are asking, ‘Is our enrollment good enough?” and they’re getting some pressure now to graduate people, but it’s not enough,” says Hamm.  “The question colleges are not asking is, ‘Are these kids getting jobs?’”  In other words, what gets measured gets done.  Currently, Hamm says, “you have a set of metrics that almost ensure that all of this is in silos.  You need people that are able to cross boundaries and start meaningful conversations—people in education that understand industry, educators that are willing to talk to each other as well as to the business community.”

Recent changes in federal law provide the business community with an unprecedented opportunity to ensure that schools are held accountable based on outcomes that are important to student success in today’s economy.  The bipartisan federal law that replaces No Child Left Behind, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), gives states flexibility to craft their own systems to hold schools accountable for student outcomes —most importantly, whether students are graduating college- and career-ready.  Right now, state leaders are making big decisions about what it means to be a successful school, what rate of academic progress is acceptable, and what to do when schools are not meeting our expectations.  By itself, a well-designed school accountability system cannot solve New York’s skills gap, but these decisions have significant implications for our employers, workforce, and economic competitiveness.

So how can employers and the business community make our voices heard? With support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, The Public Policy Institute and The Business Council of New York State have convened an unprecedented coalition of civil rights, education, parent, and business organizations to advocate for a strong accountability system that promotes college and career readiness for all New York students.

To ensure that college and career readiness is the main driver of school performance ratings and improvement strategies, New York State’s accountability system must:

  • Maintain high academic standards;
  • Ensure that schools are rated primarily based on academic outcomes (supplemented by early-warning indicators) that are closely linked with students’ ultimate success in college and the workplace;
  • Include measures of college and career readiness, designed with input from the business community.

Would your business or chamber be willing to host or participate in a regional meeting or testify at a public hearing on ESSA? Click here.

Read part one of the series here.

Bridging the STEM skills gap: Employer/educator collaboration in New York

Part one of an ongoing series based on our recent PPI report: Bridging the STEM skills gap:

Employer/educator collaboration in New York

The term new collar was popularized, if not invented, by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty to refer to the technology “jobs of the future … that can be done without a four-year college degree.” This post launches a blog series that will look at the challenges our state’s employers face in hiring skilled “new collar” workers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and showcase how some are addressing those challenges through innovative partnerships with education programs and institutions.

As the basis for this project, in December 2016 and January 2017 The Public Policy Institute of New York State conducted a survey of more than 100 executives familiar with their company’s workforce development needs and practices, followed by interviews with STEM thought leaders. Our goal was to gather data on employer skills needs in order to inform the decision-making of businesses and policymakers as they develop strategies to strengthen New York’s workforce.

Much has changed in New York’s economy over the past decade—recession, recovery, demographic and technological shifts, changes in education and tax policies—but The Public Policy Institute’s employer surveys show that talent shortages are an ongoing problem.

stem--quality-workforce
Sources: PPI Manufacturing Report Survey (2010); PPI Workforce Development Survey (2014)

We would like to thank all the executives who have participated in these surveys over the years, whether on the record or anonymously, for their valuable insights. Which regions of the state are experiencing the most difficulty filling jobs? Which STEM jobs are projected to have shortages over the coming decade? What skills and credentials are hardest to find? What are the top reasons cited by employers for investing in education programs?  What steps should New York’s policymakers take to address the skills gap? Join me over the coming weeks as we explore these important questions facing New York’s economy.

PPI Series: The Most Important Reason that Higher Standards Are Here to Stay … is YOU! You Can Join in Supporting College and Career Readiness in Your Community

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

New York’s business community is making strategic investments in education.  Businesses can send an important signal about their priorities by supporting the Common Core standards.  Employers in every industry sector and every region across the state are showing their support for college and career readiness.  In the coming weeks, the Business Council of New York State and the Public Policy Institute of New York State will launch an occasional blog series, “Spotlight on Employer Support for College and Career Readiness,” showcasing our members’ work in their own communities.  Are businesses and employers in your region working with educational institutions to increase student achievement and preparedness?

We’d love to hear about it. Please contact our director of communications at zack.hutchins@bcnys.org.

Please click here to read part fourteen.

PPI Series: The Common Core Standards Have Created Powerful Efficiencies in the Market for Educational Materials

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part fourteen of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State.

Common Core critics sometimes argue that common standards are “one-size-fits-all,” to the detriment of our children, who are each unique and learn differently.  In the case of the Common Core, however, standardization is leading to greater variety in the educational materials available to teachers and students.

Before the Common Core standards, each state had its own set of learning standards and its own definitions of “proficiency” at each grade level.  These variations posed challenges for teachers, schools of education, test developers, and textbook companies when they were deciding what material to cover, and for students when they moved from one state to another.  Rather than custom-develop materials for each state, publishers of tests and textbooks sought to save on development costs and increase profits by developing generic materials that covered the common elements of multiple states’ standards.   In an attempt to cover multiple states’ standards in a single volume, textbooks often contained more material than could be taught in a single year.  Through a series of mergers, the educational publishing industry became increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small number of companies.

The Common Core standards have transformed the market for educational materials.  With the adoption of common ELA and math standards in more than 40 states, all the major publishers are competing to create Common-Core-aligned textbooks and tests, and newer/smaller developers are entering the marketplace as well.  Groups of states have formed consortia to share the costs of developing standardized tests aligned to the Common Core.  During the initial years of implementation, most teachers and districts have struggled to find good materials aligned to the standards, but over time, the Common Core standards are leading to a greater variety of innovative, high-quality materials at lower prices.  Entities such as the New York State Education Department and the non-profit Khan Academy are developing and disseminating free Common Core curriculum materials online, and individual teachers can develop and share their own Common Core-aligned resources with one another via the American Federation of Teachers’ Share My Lesson portal.  To aid districts and teachers in choosing among the many options, there are a variety of tools to vet Common Core-aligned curriculum materials, including an organization that provides online Consumer Reports-style reviews.

Thus, with publishers now benefiting from a larger market for each product they develop, and consumers benefiting from a larger selection of better-aligned materials at lower prices, there is tremendous economic momentum behind the Common Core standards.

Please click here to read part thirteen in this ongoing series.

PPI Series: Common Core Opposition Is Largely Based on Misconceptions and Testing Worries; Public Support for High Standards Is Strong

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part thirteen of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

Common Core polls are in and out of the news, and some reporters say that a majority of the public opposes the Common Core.  But a closer look at the polls tells a different story.  Whether Americans say they oppose the Common Core depends not only on how the questions are worded, but also on how well respondents understand what the standards are and what they are used for.  Polls that describe various attributes of the standards without using the name “Common Core” find high levels of support:

  • Seventy-nine percent of voters believe we should create high-quality academic standards or goals in English and math, and allow community to develop their own curricula. (Center for American Progress)
  • Ninety percent agree that the nation should raise academic standards to compete with other countries. (Center for American Progress)
  • The majority of Americans support adoption of “a set of education standards for English and math that have been set to internationally competitive levels and would be used in every state for students in grades K through 12.” (Wall Street Journal)
  • Only 16 percent oppose the following statement: “States have been deciding whether or not to use standards … that are the same across states” and that “will be used to hold public schools accountable for their performance.” (Education Next)

Nationally, most of those who say they are opposed turn out to have misconceptions about the Common Core.  According to multiple polls, large percentages of the public mistakenly believe:

  • that the Common Core standards were federally mandated;
  • that they were developed by the U.S. Department of Education; and
  • that they prescribe a national curriculum or limit what local teachers are allowed to teach.

At the state level, the New York Common Core Task Force found that “even vocal opponents of the Common Core have noted that although they may not support the implementation of and assessments related to the Common Core, they are in favor of high standards for students and accountability for schools and districts.”  So next time someone tells you he or she is against the Common Core, it might be worth asking a slightly different question.

Please click here to read part eleven in this ongoing series.

PPI Series: Are you Smarter Than A 5th Grader? Sample Question from the New York State Grade 5 English Language Arts Assessment

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part twelve of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

To help educators and the public understand how the annual English language arts tests have changed in accordance with what the state’s new, higher standards demand, the Education Department has released a sample of test questions on EngageNY.org.  The example in today’s post is an article taken directly from NASA’s website, written by an expert in the history of spaceflight.  On the 5th grade English language arts assessment, six multiple choice questions were based on this passage, to measure various skills including students’ ability to find the main idea, explain how an author uses reasoning and evidence to support particular points, and draw inferences based on specific information in the text.

Figure 6: Sample question from New York State Grade 5 English Language Arts Assessment
PPI-sample-question-english-language2

Please click here to read part eleven in this ongoing series.

PPI Series: Are you Smarter Than An 8th Grader? Sample Question from the New York State Grade 8 Math Assessment

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part eleven of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

To help educators and the public understand how the annual math tests have changed in accordance with what the state’s new, higher standards demand, the New York State Education Department has released a sample of test questions on EngageNY.org.  To solve the problem shown below, for example, students must recall the formula for the volume of a cylinder and apply it to solve a real-world problem.  The annotated answer key models how teachers should analyze their students’ work on classroom assignments throughout the year, looking at why students got the wrong answer and determining whether there is any pattern in students’ mistakes that would indicate the need to re-teach part of the unit.

Sample question from New York State Grade 8 Math Assessment

A water tank is in the shape of a right circular cylinder with a height of 20 feet and a volume of 320π cubic feet. What is the diameter, in feet, of the water tank?

A 16
B 10
C 8
D 4

Correct Answer: C
Measured CCLS: 8.G.9

Commentary: The item measures 8.G.9 because it measures using the formula for the volume of a cylinder (V = πr2h) to solve real-world problems; it has students solve for the diameter of a cylinder given the volume and height.

Answer Choice A: 16. This response reflects the radius squared of the cylinder. The student likely divided the volume by the height times π, but did not take the square root of the result to determine the radius. A student who selects this response may have limited understanding of how to solve for a variable in a formula.
320π ÷ 20π = 16

Answer Choice B: 10. This response reflects half of the height of the cylinder. A student who selects this response may not understand how to use the formula for the volume of a cylinder or the relationship between the dimensions of the cylinder.
20 ÷ 2 = 10

Answer Choice C: 8. The student correctly determined the diameter of the cylinder. The student who selects this response used the formula for the volume of a cylinder to solve for the radius of the cylinder, and then used the radius to find the diameter.
V = πr2h
320π = πr2(20) 2r = d
16 = r2 2 × 4 = 8
4 = r

Answer Choice D: 4. This response reflects the radius of the cylinder. A student who selects this response may understand how to use the formula for the volume of a cylinder, but may not understand the relationship between the radius and diameter of the cylinder or attend to precision when answering the question posed in the problem.

V = πr2h
320π = πr2(20)
16 = r2
4 = r

Answer options A, B, and D are plausible but incorrect. They represent common student errors made when using the formula of a cylinder to solve real-world and mathematical problems. Answer option C represents the correct process used to solve for the diameter of a cylinder given the volume and height.

Please click here to read part ten in this ongoing series.

PPI Series: The Common Core is Not About Zany Math or Indoctrinating Children. It’s About Conceptual Understanding and Critical Thinking in Real-World Contexts (Just Like the New SAT)

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part ten of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

You have probably seen the social media posts showing math homework that makes no sense or requires children to do multiple confusing steps to solve a simple addition problem. Should we blame the Common Core standards for confusing assignments?  The standards rightly specify that students need to be “fluent” in solving arithmetic problems—in other words, they need to be able to perform arithmetic calculations quickly and without stopping to think.  But the standards go further by demanding that students understand the concepts behind arithmetic and be able to demonstrate that understanding in more than one way. For example, students may use drawings or work with manipulatives to illustrate how arithmetic works. This enables children with different learning styles to experiment until they discover a model that makes sense to them.

At higher levels, students are expected to “solve math problems rooted in the real world, deciding for themselves which formulas and tools (such as protractors and rulers) to use.” Assignments and test questions often require students to complete several steps and draw on the application of multiple skills and concepts.  The rapid transition to the Common Core has afforded teachers and curriculum publishers less lead time than they are accustomed to, to develop materials to guide students through these conceptual processes and applications, and so the quality of lessons and assignments has been uneven. These growing pains are dissipating as teachers become more comfortable with the standards, and materials are revised and refined. Moreover, the availability of free video lessons on Khan Academy and elsewhere means that even the most math-phobic parent can find help with Common Core homework.

What about the Common Core standards in English language arts and literacy?  Some critics have gone so far as to liken the Common Core initiative to Communism or Nazism, or have said that that it is anti-freedom, or even that it will turn children into homosexuals.  If you read the Common Core standards closely, you will discover a certain irony to such baseless claims. At their heart, the standards ask students to become comfortable reading and analyzing texts drawn from real-world sources, especially non-fiction texts in science and social studies.

Under the Common Core standards, students are asked to do “close reading” and to ground their analyses in information gathered from the assigned texts.  The irony, then, is that Common Core opponents will be hard-pressed to find any evidence of Communism, Nazism, or homosexual propaganda in the language of the standards themselves.  Because the standards aim to instill critical thinking skills, students will inevitably be asked to study texts with which they or their parents disagree, including texts that espouse a range of social and political viewpoints.  The selection of particular reading materials is a local curricular decision.  So anti-Common Core activists are probably right when they warn that “[y]our child or grandchild will not be able to escape Common Core materials that are anti-Christian, anti-capitalism, and anti-America, or that are pro-homosexuality, illegal immigration, unions, environmentalism, gun control, feminism, and social justice.”  The Common Core standards are not about “escaping” from texts; they are about grappling with them.

New York’s rigorous Common Core-aligned assessments, though unpopular in some circles, will prove to be excellent preparation for the SAT.  One of the lead authors of the Common Core standards, David Coleman, is now head of the College Board, and under his leadership, the SAT has been redesigned in line with the Common Core.  The new exam engages students in evidence-based reading and writing, drawing on more non-fiction texts from science and social studies sources.  The math portion focuses on the areas of math that are most important for college and career, and asks students “to solve problems in science, social science, and career contexts.”  The College Board began administering the new SAT in spring 2016.  The smart money says that New York policymakers will maintain the state’s momentum in implementing the Common Core, to give our students the best possible preparation for the redesigned SAT.

Please click here to read part nine in this ongoing series.

PPI Series: Making Sense of the Controversy Over Raising New York’s Education Standards: Let’s Review

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part nine of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

In the wake of the 2015 opt-out testing boycott, Governor Cuomo convened a Common Core Task Force to study the standards and tests, and the New York State Education Department launched a survey to solicit input on the standards, particularly from parents and teachers. One benefit of such reviews is that they force would-be critics to actually read and become familiar with the standards.  According to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank that specializes in analyzing education standards, most states that have conducted reviews have found that the Common Core standards are consistent with the research on what skills and knowledge students need to be college- and career-ready, and have therefore ended up making only relatively minor changes to the standards.

The Task Force’s report devotes much attention to describing stakeholders’ frustration surrounding the swift adoption and implementation of the standards, confusion over whether the EngageNY curriculum resources were mandatory (they were not), and complaints about the grades 3-8 ELA and math tests.  Congress’s December 2015 reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act retains the requirement for states to test students annually in ELA and math in grades 3-8, so the tests themselves will remain in place.  But in a significant move, the Board of Regents has adopted the Task Force’s recommendation to remove any consequences for teachers’ and principals’ evaluations related to the grades 3-8 ELA and math tests until the 2019-2020 school year.

As for the standards themselves, the majority of responses to NYSED’s survey (more than 70 percent) were positive.  Moreover, the Task Force explicitly affirmed that New York must maintain high educational standards” and “build upon the foundation established by the Common Core standards.”  The aspects of the standards that received the most criticism from survey respondents had to do with the early grades.  The Task Force report recommended that NYSED seek input from child development experts to ensure that the standards for the early grades are developmentally appropriate.  NYSED is launching a process whereby committees of educators, parents, students, and–notably–business representatives will recommend revisions to the standards, to be implemented in 2017-18.  The Department has pledged to “use this feedback … to help us identify where and what changes are needed to make New York’s Common Core ELA and Math Learning Standards stronger.”  Indeed,  the best possible outcome of this scrutiny and fine-tuning at the state level would be if it were ultimately to strengthen the Common Core standards and improve their implementation.

Please click here to read part eight in this ongoing series.