A new report examining how Boston Public Schools students do relative to peer districts in science achievement proved to be an excellent jumping off point for a lively discussion of how Boston schools and businesses could work together to better prepare young students for STEM careers, in a forum at the Boston Foundation on January 23, 2019.
The report, Getting It Right: Progress and Problems in Raising Science Achievement in Boston, written by Matthew Pakos, a former Associate Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, examined Science MCAS scores since 2008. It found that Boston schools lag the state average for percentage of students scoring Proficient or Advanced on the Science MCAS in Grades 5, 8 and 10, by 25 points or more. Less than 20 percent of Boston Public Schools students scored Proficient or Advanced on the Grade 5 and 8 Science MCAS in 2017, and fewer than half scored at those levels on their Grade 10 Science MCAS.
Luc Schuster of Boston Indicators presented the report findings, which also looked at Boston compared to other urban districts and found that city students tended to perform more poorly than peers on the Science MCAS tests, especially in the lower grades. Schuster began his presentation with some context setting, noting that virtually all of the highest-paying net new jobs expected in Massachusetts in the coming decade will be tied to STEM fields.
During the panel discussion, Masschusetts Life Sciences Center President and CEO Travis McCready said that the need for qualified STEM workers had already arrived - he estimated between 6,000 and 7,000 life sciences jobs in the state are unfilled on any given day, and that companies are eager to find more qualified workers for both high-skill and middle-skill jobs.
The discussion on how to improve student performance centered around providing more opportunities for students to spend time in science in earlier grades, and ensuring that science gets greater attention in teacher education. Charles Grandson, the Chief Academic Officer for the Boston Public Schools, acknowledged that right now elementary and middle school students in the city get just two days of science classes per week.
At the high school level, all the panelists aligned around the ideas of building stronger connection with businesses and creation of internship opportunities, not just for students, but for teachers as well to ensure they have a stronger understanding of the changes in science and technology. Partnerships for equipment and other support were also seen as critical. Dana Brown, Principal of the Dearborn STEM Academy, said partnerships will play an important role as the school reimagines its STEM curriculum.
Melodie Knowlton, head of the Learning Lab at Vertex Pharaceuticals, also shared her valuable insights into how Vertex works to connect students with the company.
As the event began, Paul Grogan also took a moment to acknowledge panelist Ioannis Miaoulis, President of the Museum of Science, who announced last month that he was stepping down as President effective January 31.