Now possible: a family night of coding in every elementary school


(previously published on EdSource)

When they check their email today, every elementary school in California will find a tool to bring families together for a fun introduction to computer coding.

Through a corporate grant, more than 6,000 principals in the state will receive a free digital kit today from MV GATE, a small Mill Valley nonprofit, enabling them to easily organize and stage “Family Code Night.” The program uses coding puzzles developed by, a national evangelist for computer education in schools.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy cited the project, which will also distribute the kits to schools in Chicago, among new initiatives it announced Monday to kick off Computer Science Education Week. Many schools will make time this week for Hour of Code, which introduces students to computer science through a choice of 100 one-hour entertaining coding activities covering a range of grades and coding knowledge.

On Family Code Night, parents and children participate in an introductory hour-long activity together. That can be a transformative experience, says John Pearce, director and CEO of MV GATE, which developed the Family Code Night program. “Parents can have a defining influence in celebrating their children’s progress in computer science learning. You see break-through moments. A 3rd-grader and her mom do simple puzzles and realize together that they can code and that they like it.” (A parents-oriented version of the kit can be downloaded from

It’s important to reach kids early, Pearce said, because “by middle school, kids have already decided if math and science are for them.”


(By assembling blocks of instructions, students and parents can create lines of code that move the Angry Bird on the game board.)

Hour of Code and Family Code Night are part of a fast-growing national computer-science movement encouraged by the Obama administration’s Computer Science For All initiative. With partnerships with Silicon Valley companies like Salesforce and Intel, San Francisco and Oakland unified school districts are developing K-12 computer science curriculums; Google opened a coding lab in one of Oakland’s low-income neighborhoods. The San Jose charter school group Alpha Public Schools is requiring high school students to take at least  two years of computer science.

Proponents say understanding the fundamentals of computing is becoming a requisite part of a student’s core knowledge and a key to career opportunities beyond programming and computer science. At a recent computer science forum sponsored by the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, Kaustav Mitra, vice president of Innovation Ecosystems at the Infosys Foundation, drove home that point. “We’re not teaching computer science to create programmers, just as we don’t teach English to produce more novelists.”

Family Code Night requires internet access and a computer for each parent-student pair. The kit provides everything else: forms for parent invitations, an event timeline, to-do lists and instructions, an event script, handouts and badges for student coaches. Several hours of preparation by three people – the principal, an event organizer and a presenter – should be all that’s needed, Pearce said.

The puzzles and tutorials by teach the basics of computer logic; they ask parents and students to create lines of code by dragging and dropping commands like move forward or turn left to move pieces on a game board. In one of the challenges, for example, the code enables an Angry Bird to corral a Bad Pig.

Three months ago, White House officials invited Pearce to describe Family Code Night at a conference on computer education. That visibility led to a connection with Capital One Bank’s corporate foundation, whose $40,000 grant is funding the kit distribution.

Last month, the Disney Company, working with, announced the launch of “Moana: Wayfinding with Code,” a coding tutorial coinciding with its new animated movie; it will be the second of a series of Family Code Night programs, Pearce said. The third program, using the popular free Scratch programdeveloped by MIT for kids, is in the works.

Pearce is partnering with the Association of California School Administrators to distribute the Family Code Night kit. The leaders of ACSA’s Elementary Education Council’s 19 regions endorsed the promotion, said Scott Borba, council president and principal of Alice Stroud Elementary in Modesto.

“The kit is user-friendly and a Family Night of Code will be easy to throw together,” he said. “I think this is going to catch on.”

Borba will include the event as part of a STEM night in February and hopes it will attract close to a majority of parents in the nearly 500-student K-6 school. Since his school already does Hour of Code events, many of the students will be familiar with simple coding concepts and language and will be helping their parents. That process can reinforce kids’ confidence and enthusiasm, he said, adding, “Can you imagine a kindergartner showing a parent how to code?”


GEAR UP for College Summer Program At MiraCosta College

A record number of high school students in Oceanside took part in an intensive summer college preparatory program at MiraCosta College as part of a partnership between MCC GEAR UP and the Student Equity Department to increase the number of participating students who are prepared for and succeed in college.

MiraCosta College is located in north San Diego County and serves approximately 15,000 students. MCC’s GEAR UP partnership with Oceanside Unified School district focuses on these objectives: Summer Program Application and Essay, College Online Application & Concurrent Enrollment, Mandatory Parent-Student Orientation, Monday-Thursday 4 week College Courses, Full day IA support in college class and academic support, and Graduation Ceremony including family, MCC/OUSD/GEAR UP partners.

img_1830GEAR UP for College is an innovative, four-week program that offers college-level courses, tutoring, textbooks, meals and more for participating juniors and seniors at Oceanside and El Camino high schools. It is part of GEAR UP, an acronym for Gaining Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, which is aimed at increasing the number of low-income students who are prepared to enroll at and succeed in college.

Fifty-eight students from Oceanside and El Camino high schools took part in GEAR UP for College at MiraCosta College in 2015. This year, that number nearly doubled to 115 students.

“MiraCosta College and the Oceanside Unified School District are committed to ensuring all students have access to a quality higher education, and we are pleased to see a record number of high school students taking part in the GEAR UP for College program this summer,” said Julie Johnson, who directs the GEAR UP program at MiraCosta College.

This year’s four week program began in June and ran Monday through Thursday. The 115 high school students are spending their mornings in Communication 101 (Public Speaking) and Sociology 101, both of which are transferable to colleges and universities. Afternoons are spent working with instructional assistants to make sure students understand their morning lessons. In addition, eight guest speakers from throughout the community are invited to talk about their life experiences with the students during the 16-day program.

Success of this program include: 

  • 115 participated in the four week program.
  • 97% of participating, low GPA students, received college credit 
  • 114 students passed their college class, achieving a 99% success rate
  • Students reported that they felt more confident in their voice and to speak in situations
  • Significant increase of participating students’ involvement in GEAR UP activities, programs, events, and services
  • Increased of GEAR UP parent involvement in workshops

Despite their young age, the high schoolers are treated no differently than college students, and course content is exactly the same as offered to traditional college-aged students.

GEAR UP for College, had a profound impact on students who took part when it was introduced for the first time last year at the Oceanside Campus. Luis Flores, then a high school junior, was among the participants who enrolled in a college communications course last summer.

“I knew nothing about communication and was terrified because it was a college level course,” he said at the time. “Now I realize it’s not that difficult, especially if we use all the resources available to us like academic support.”

GEAR UP is funded through a seven-year, $7-million grant awarded to MiraCosta College to work with Oceanside Unified School District in serving students in the classes of 2017 and 2018 when they were at Chavez Middle School and Jefferson Middle School beginning in 2011. The program last year earned the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce’s Innovator Award.

GEAR UP for College is also funded through the MiraCosta College Student Equity program.

img_1792“GEAR UP for College is an innovative way to get young students excited about and prepared for college,” said Dr. Sunny Cooke, superintendent/president of MiraCosta College. “The results have been impressive and it only made sense to expand the program this year.”

The outreach necessary to achieve such a high level of success was not easy. GEAR UP staff had to go out to the high schools and register each student for the program, and focused on students who would benefit most from exposure to college material and experiences the most, not just the students who were already college bound. Connecting with families and parents was key in making sure the support for the enrolled students were there, as was the tutoring and mentor support provided by GEAR UP and MCC.

A holistic approach to preparing students for college is what works, and is exactly what GEAR UP 4 College did.

“GEAR UP for College is an incredible program developed to provide college access and success for our GEAR UP students while still in high school.”
Julie M. Johnson
Director, GEAR UP Partnership
MiraCosta College/Oceanside Unified School District
For more information on MCC GEAR UP, check out their website. MCC GEAR UP is a participant and founding organization of the California Partnership Initiative.

Partnership Success: Palomar AP Academy


The 2016 Palomar College GEAR UP for Advanced Placement (AP) Academy provided 152 students the opportunity to study advanced materials in-depth and at an accelerated pace, ultimately giving students a head start on the rigorous coursework they will face in the 2016-17 school year.  The academy allowed students to familiarize themselves with AP standards and motivate and prepare them to enroll in future AP courses. Students experienced challenging classes and glimpsed college life through our weekly local college visits.

apacademyvisitplnuThese college bound students collaborated with teachers, administrators, and previous AP students to be better prepared for college level coursework.  Students who successfully completed the AP Academy earned five elective credits and one paid AP exam by the Palomar College GEAR UP program.



California GEAR UP Completes Statewide School Institutes


To support the California GEAR UP model, regional leadership and professional development events were created for each of the 48 California GEAR UP Middle Schools. The purpose is to develop regional support networks to provide opportunities for GEAR UP schools to learn from each other and problem solve together about common concerns and issues.

These events are facilitated by Whole School Services Coaches with content based on advice from School Leadership Team members.  Events are customized to meet the needs of participating schools within each region and in alignment with target areas of growth identified in the GEAR UP School Self Assessment Rubric.img_96951

September 22, 2016 7:30AM-3:30PM  Southern California Riverside Fall Regional Institute

Theme: GEAR UP Leadership Teams, What is your Bigger Purpose? 

Mission Inn Hotel** Riverside, CA


 September 29, 2016 


Southern California Anaheim Fall Regional Institute Theme: GEAR UP Leadership Teams, What is your Bigger Purpose?  Marriott Suites Anaheim,
 November 2, 2016 8:30AM-3:00PM  Northern California Fall Institute

Theme: Focus on the Whole Child—Academics, Social-Emotional Health, Parent and Community Connections 

Courtyard by Marriott —Midtown** Sacramento, CA


UC along with 200 universities supports deportation relief policy


university_of_california-berkeley_5686897_i1In line with numerous campus efforts to promote inclusivity in wake of Donald Trump’s presidential victory, UC Berkeley and other UC campuses joined colleges across the country in signing a statement supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

DACA is an immigration policy implemented by President Barack Obama through an executive order in 2012 that aims to protect eligible youth from deportation who first entered the United States before their sixteenth birthday among other guidelines. As of Tuesday, more than 200 college leaders across the country signed a statement in support of the DACA, which President-elect Trump opposes.

“UC Berkeley firmly supports DACA, its beneficiaries and all of our undocumented students. We are doing everything in our power to provide our undocumented students with the services and support they need,” said Chancellor Nicholas Dirks in an email. “Diversity is central to our mission, and we are committed to maintaining a campus culture where every member of the community feels safe, welcome, and respected.”

DACA beneficiaries are entitled to a work permit, a social security number and have the freedom to return back to the United States in certain circumstances.

The policy can have significant fiscal impacts for eligible students because it classifies them as California residents for purposes such as admission and financial aid, opening eligibility for grants, work-study and scholarships, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

“Without DACA, a Berkeley education would be out of reach for many,” Mogulof said in an email.

Apart from chancellors at other UC schools such as Irvine, San Diego, Davis and Los Angeles, signatories include Ivy League colleges like Yale and Harvard.

Juan A. Prieto, an undocumented campus senior, said he was grateful for DACA because it eased his anxiety over possible deportation.

“I think now that DACA is being threatened it’s like some folks are sort of being reminded that we are undocumented again,” Prieto said. “It gave a lot of student’s opportunities … but I think the flaw in it was that we did not use those opportunities to uplift all of our community.”

According to Prerna Lal, an immigration attorney at the Undocumented Student Program on campus, DACA has been a vital resource for undocumented students to participate in campus life and graduate on time.

“Ending DACA would wipe away at least $433.4 billion from the U.S. GDP cumulatively over 10 years,” Lal said in an email.

In light of uncertainty regarding the new government’s immigration policies, UC President Janet Napolitano has convened a task force to strategize policies to protect undocumented students. Additionally, UC officials have been in talks with undocumented students about establishing sanctuary status for the university.

“The campus also looks forward to working with President Napolitano’s task force that will be strategizing on how, in the future, to best protect undocumented students across the UC system,” Dirks said in an email.

Contact Parth Vohra at and follow him on Twitter at @ParthVohra622.

5 Tips for Scoring College Scholarships


If you’re a high school senior or a college student looking for scholarships to help fund the cost of school next year, now is the perfect time to begin your search.

Local private scholarship deadlines tend to be in the spring, but applications for some of the biggest national scholarships are due in the next few months.

In fact, November is National Scholarship Month, designated by the nonprofit National Scholarship Providers Association to help raise awareness that fall is the time to start applying.

Unlike financial aid, these scholarships are based on merit, not financial need, though family income can be a factor in some cases.

For some scholarships, you’ll have to move quickly if you want to have a chance. The Elks National Foundation Most Valuable Student Competition, for example, awards up to $50,000 to students who demonstrate leadership. But applications are due Dec. 1.

Applications for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship Program—which gives up to $40,000 per year—must be submitted by Nov. 30th, and the James W. McLamore Whopper Scholarship, from the co-founder of Burger King, gives $50,000 awards to students, but you have to apply by Dec. 15.

How likely is it that you’ll win scholarship dough? Fairly decent, actually.

According to the 2016 Sallie Mae How America Funds College survey, about half of families who responded reported getting some scholarship or grant money. In fact, according to the survey, scholarships and grants covered 34 percent of college costs on average.

Though less than 1 percent of students get scholarships that cover the entire cost of tuition and room and board, according to financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz, there are thousands of scholarships that go beyond academic or athletic performance.

Among them are music performance, community service, and entrepreneurial experiences, says Kathy Ruby, director of college finance for College Coach, a college admission and financing consulting service.

Smart Strategies

Here are five ways to maximize your chances of getting money that can make a meaningful dent in your college bills:

Target merit aid. Colleges are one of the largest providers of grants and scholarships, Ruby says. Eager to get a diverse student body, colleges use merit aid to recruit students based on specific characteristics, such as your GPA, your field of study, or where you grew up.

Generally, private colleges offer more merit aid than public universities because they have endowments and don’t rely on state funding. But many state schools, especially in the South and West, offer generous scholarships to out-of-staters with solid academic records.

For example, The University of Arkansas’ New Arkansan Non-Resident Tuition Award scholarship gives up to 90 percent of the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for students from neighboring states who have a GPA of 3.2 or higher.

You can increase your chances of getting merit aid by applying to schools where your test scores and grades place you in the top 10 percent of the class.

Go to the College Board’s website, Big Future, to see how your academic record compares with students accepted at the schools you want to attend.

As you research and visit schools, ask admissions officers whether you are a good candidate for merit aid and what kind of profile students who get merit aid typically have.

“The criteria colleges look for shifts every year,” Ruby says.

Find your fit. Be strategic about applying. Scholarships with few or very broad criteria will have a lot more competition.

Spend your time searching for scholarships that really match your experience and interests. Use free online scholarship search services that can help you find those that fit: Cappexthe College BoardFastweb, and

You fill out a profile to identify what’s unique about you, and the services match you with potential scholarships.

Go big and small. National scholarships are often more lucrative than those in your community, so targeting a few large scholarships is a good way to start.

But your odds of snagging a local one may be better because you’re likely to be competing against fewer students. Talk to the guidance counselors at your school to see which organizations they work with.

Churches, civic organizations such as Rotary Clubs, and local businesses are common sources. Go the extra mile by looking up the winners or going to awards ceremonies to see who scores the awards.

Focus on your career. Some professional organizations offer scholarships to entice people to enter the field, especially in hard-to-fill professions.

Check out the Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop tool, which lists more than 5,000 scholarships for undergraduate and graduate school programs. These include: $2,500 from the American Association of Equine Practitioners for people studying veterinary medicine and $3,000 to $5,000 from the American Concrete Institute to support students whose studies relate to concrete (really).

Then there’s the $5,000 John Kitt Memorial Scholarship from the American Association of Candy Technologists, for college students with a demonstrated interest in confectionary technology.

Start early. You don’t need to wait until senior year to start thinking about scholarships. Begin researching potential scholarships when you first enter high school.

“Then you can start taking steps to meet the criteria rather wait and try to find what box you fit in,” Ruby says.

Posted with permission from consumer reports.


3 Digital Trends Shaping the Future of College Admissions


Generation Z, or the post-Millennial generation, is now the largest portion of the U.S. population, at nearly 26 percent. Considered “digital natives,” this demographic is the first generation to grow up fully digital, interacting fluently over social media and completely dependent on the Internet. Nearly three-quarters of them use cell phones more than they watch TV, according to the advertising agency Sparks & Honey.

As with generations past, a college and post-grad education is well-revered; however, the higher education industry is lacking the digital tools to appeal to their most desirable students, and worse, lacking the tools to prepare them for tech-heavy careers.

Undergraduate enrollment is projected to increase 14 percent from 17.3 million to 19.8 million students between 2014 and 2025, but higher education institutions still have major catching up to do. Cathy O’Neil, author and former Director of the Lede Program in Data Practices at Columbia University writes, “Today’s college admissions process has gradually become dominated by a viper’s nest of competing algorithms that keep tuition rising, parents worrying and kids suffering. Fail to play the game and your child may pay the price.”

The technology challenge facing higher education is substantial, but these are three key ways college institutions can use digital tools to better appeal to their tech-savvy audience.

1. Enrollment process must go digital.

Despite widespread digital trends, the school enrollment process remains largely unchanged. Prospective students can research a college website and chat with peers or active students, but a majority of them find it difficult to navigate the institution on a deeper level.

“In order to create a funnel of likely student applicants, institutions need more digital systems, (i.e. mobile apps) in place to attract potential students while also correctly gauging their interest to attend,” says Sujoy Roy, founder and CEO of VisitDays, an app that helps universities communicate with prospective students. “Research shows that when students are empowered with tools to take personalized on-campus tours, they’re 70 percent more likely to attend.”

Furthermore, digital tools that aim to solve the predictive yield problem, such as the emerging Virtual Reality campus tour trend, help predict enrollment rates, which lessens administrative headaches and budget roadblocks while increasing evaluation abilities.

2. Creative online, digital and mobile strategies.

According to a 2016 study by Marketo, newer methods of technology, such as enhanced course delivery, “flipped classrooms,” and gamification, have seen promising student outcomes. “Flipped” and gamified instructional models, in particular, have been linked to greater student engagement.

We use digital tools in the classroom to engage Generation Z, but higher education has been immensely slow to migrate their admissions outreach to similar channels. Data from TargetX, a CRM platform for higher education, reveals that 81 percent of students visit college websites on mobile devices and as many as 35 percent have submitted a college application from their hand-held devices.

Thus, colleges must have a compelling online and mobile presence. The Marketo study also found that 5 percent of seniors have received text messages from universities, while 73 percent would be willing to allow text messages. This is a huge missed opportunity to connect and engage real-time with future students. Implementing tools, like VisitDays, demonstrates to this all-digital cohort that the institution speaks their language.

3. Emphasize new marketing outreach.

In a society with abundant “noise,” today’s colleges must do much more outbound marketing than in decades past. Universities are creating roles for marketing and branding experts to analyze the market and cultivate strategies, much like traditional companies do.

A recent survey conducted by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth found that nearly all polled institutions use some form of social media as part of their marketing. Moreover, institutions are increasingly taking advantage of social media, mobile marketing, and other digital strategies not only to recruit students, but also to research prospective students.

Multichannel marketing and communications are critical: 40 percent of seniors and 45 percent of juniors noted that they are more likely to consider institutions that use print and phone communications, along with digital. An article published in Inside Higher Ed, estimates the annual recruiting spend of American colleges to move from the current $10 billion to $100 billion a year.

Lesson: Leverage digital tools to differentiate.

Many less-selective, four-year institutions are struggling with declining enrollments. The 2015 Survey of Admissions Directors found that half of admissions directors were very concerned about meeting their enrollment goals for the 2015 to 16 academic year, and 58 percent did not meet their goals. This large swath of four-year institutions need to quickly find a solution to lackluster admissions numbers.

Several questions emerge: is technology the answer? Is it revitalized branding or lowering tuition costs? Or perhaps opening bigger doors for international students? They all beg the question: is a school’s value earned or arbitrary? There is no obvious answer, but what’s clear is that if these schools don’t differentiate themselves from the pack in 2016, they’ll increase the risk of closing their doors permanently.

From Entrepreneur Magazine


Micro-Barriers Loom Large for First-Generation Students


By the time J.D. Vance got ready to apply for law school, he’d already survived an abusive and chaotic childhood, made it through Marine Corps boot camp and a deployment to Iraq, and galloped through a bachelor’s degree at Ohio State in less than two years. But as he looked over the application for Stanford law, he found himself stymied by a simple requirement — a signature from his dean. “I didn’t know the dean of my college at Ohio State,” Vance writes in his best-selling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy. “I’m sure she is a lovely person, and the form was clearly little more than a formality. But I just couldn’t ask.”

He crumpled the form and finished his other applications, the ones that didn’t require help from a total stranger. And that’s why one of the most talked-about books of the year is written by a Yale law graduate instead of a Stanford alum.

In this agitated election year, Hillbilly Elegy has been closely mined for insights about working-class America and the sense of alienation that has roiled our politics and inflamed our public debate. With his Appalachian roots and searing personal story, Vance has become an eager translator across the cultural chasm, unpacking Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” in a New York Times op-ed and talking religion with Terry Gross. Vance’s lessons on college access have gone largely unnoticed, but Hillbilly Elegy has plenty to say about the intangible barriers that make it so tough for an impoverished, first-generation kid to make the leap to higher education.

“That week of interviews showed me that successful people are playing an entirely different game.”

That simple form for Stanford law is a perfect example of where a relatively tiny difference in culture can make a huge difference in access. Vance didn’t lack knowledge of the form — he wasn’t suffering an information breakdown, as we so often assume of first-generation students. He simply wasn’t willing to ask what felt like a favor of someone he didn’t know. Self-reliance is a cardinal virtue in Vance’s world, where bonds of kinship and trust take years to develop. “The professors I selected to write my letters [of recommendation] had gained my trust,” he writes. “I listened to them nearly every day, took their tests, and wrote papers for them.” They could be asked for a favor. The dean, both a stranger and a bigwig, could not.

It’s easy to view that as a silly distinction for a student to make, especially for something as important as a law-school application. But from a student’s perspective, requiring the pro forma signature of a random college official probably seems pretty silly, too. Higher education is choked with micro-barriers like that.

Reading Hillbilly Elegy, I thought about how much time we spend imploring students to seek guidance for obstacles of our own devising. We produce bureaucratic hurdles, then ask students to assume good faith and a willingness to help on the part of professors and administrators who don’t always exhibit such openness. Wealthier, parentally enabled students feel perfect freedom to ask for accommodations in exchange for their tuition dollars. But Vance highlights the awkwardness of telling low-income students to be grateful for their scholarships and also empowered to make demands.

He’s especially sharp in describing the opaque corners of the collegiate world, where decisions are made about who gets job opportunities, who makes it into the right student groups, and who gets connected to the most helpful alumni. These are the areas where no amount of diligent rule-following will do the trick, because the rules are intentionally unwritten. “The entire process was a black box, and no one I knew had the key,” Vance writes of his experience trying to join The Yale Law Journal. “I had no idea what was going on.”

A similarly hazy authority holds sway when it comes to summer internships, which matter hugely for a student’s career prospects. Not only is there no manual to guide the uninitiated; there’s also a taboo against direct questions. “There’s no database that spits out this information, no central source,” Vance writes. “In fact, it’s considered almost unseemly to ask.”

That’s because we’re all a little squeamish about the mechanics of networking, and our discomfort comes to the fore when we have to explain the dark arts to a newcomer. I felt the weight of Vance’s incredulity when he describes his first internship search at Yale law. “That week of interviews showed me that successful people are playing an entirely different game,” he writes. “They don’t flood the job market with résumés, hoping that some employer will grace them with an interview. They network.”

Vance was lucky enough to have mentors who offered honest guidance, primers on the unwritten rules of an unseen game, but too few students get that kind of break. The Gallup-Purdue Index puts enormous stock in the value of mentor relationships, correlating them to higher personal well-being and job satisfaction among graduates. But the inaugural survey in 2014 found that barely one in five students had a mentor as part of their undergraduate experience. Outside of niche scholarship and retention programs, we’re not doing nearly enough to help students navigate the unmapped terrain of academic and professional life.

In one particularly vivid example, Vance recounts a recruiting dinner at a white tablecloth restaurant in downtown New Haven. Faced with more cutlery than any sane person needs, he retreated to the bathroom for a phone-a-friend lifeline on fork selection. Reading the details of his nerve-wracking meal — “That’s when I realized ‘sparkling’ water meant ‘carbonated’ water” — I felt proud that my university offers voluntary etiquette dinners for students. It’s easy to criticize that kind of course as outmoded or patronizing, until you read Vance’s very real mortification as he tries to bluff his way through a formal evening. If the world is going to judge you on something, we ought to be willing to teach it.

The biggest lesson of Hillbilly Elegy is just how much there is to teach. As the divides in our culture and our economy have deepened, bridging the distance between Vance’s world and the college environment has become a bigger lift. Our well-mannered discretion about this gap is born of best intentions, but it leaves working-class kids like Vance at a real disadvantage. He makes a persuasive case for more blunt acknowledgment, ending one chapter with a “non-exhaustive list of things I didn’t know when I got to Yale Law School.” It includes gems like, “that your shoes and belt should match,” and my personal favorite, “that finance was an industry people worked in.”

Vance’s story is not universal. He’s white, which affords no small amount of privilege. He benefited from a network of extended family that supported and cared for him, however imperfectly. And he attended a decent public school. None of those things are taken for granted. That Vance still felt such a vast gulf between his world and academe is a measure of our challenge. And it suggests there’s still a great deal our institutions can do to feel less foreign to our own students.

That means not just sharing information and simplifying processes, but also telling stories like Vance’s. It means avoiding the coded politesse that plays down the class divide and benefits of those on the winning side of it. Candor is not a cure-all, but Vance’s memoir makes a powerful case for a more honest accounting of what separates us.

Eric Johnson is assistant director for policy analysis and communications in the Office of Scholarships & Student Aid at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This essay reflects his personal views.


Is STEM Education in Permanent Crisis?

By Michael Marder-EdWeekxv36-10-op-1-copyright-peterhoey-jpg-pagespeed-ic-5rihxb0w4t

In 1983, “A Nation at Risk” raised grave concerns that America’s schools, particularly in the academic area we now call STEM, were damaging the country’s ability to compete. “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war,” warned the report from a federally appointed commission. Twenty-two years later, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” a report from the National Academy of Sciences, leveled a similar charge: “[O]ur overall public school system—or more accurately 14,000 systems—has shown little sign of improvement, particularly in mathematics and science.”

How can education in science and mathematics be in such crisis for so long? If fixing the crisis has the urgency of responding to foreign attack, how can it be that after 33 years of warnings, we are still stuck?

or some student populations, there is improvement. The best measure of long-term performance is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend Assessment. For 9- and 13-year-old white, black, and Hispanic students, math scores have increased since they were first measured by NAEP in 1978. Schools moved racial and ethnic groups in middle school ahead by around four years of learning: In fact, the scores of black and Hispanic 13-year-olds in 2012 almost matched the scores of black and Hispanic 17-year-olds from 1978.

But high school Long-Term Trend NAEP scores tell another story: Flat since 1990, NAEP math scores understate the scale of our problem. The United States stands apart from Europe and Asia in its conception of how much science and math is appropriate for all students. The United States has a culture of lower expectations for its students—one that will be hard to change, even if we want to.

Our country’s single biggest obstacle is a perpetual STEM teacher shortage. In surveys of school districts, openings in physics, chemistry, and math are regularly near the top of the list of positions hardest to fill. As a result, a large percentage of high school STEM teachers have neither a college major nor minor in their main assignment, or they lack full certification. Forty percent of math teachers fall into one of these categories. In physics, chemistry, and earth science, the number is over 60 percent.

Why do we have this STEM teacher shortage? It exists because incentives to change it are weak. For students who major in a STEM subject, the decision to become a teacher can add time and cost to their degrees. Teaching jobs pay tens of thousands of dollars less per year than nonteaching jobs in science, technology, engineering, or math. For university colleges of science, where all STEM teachers take content coursework or get their degrees, every staff or faculty position devoted to preparing STEM teachers is one not devoted to STEM researchers bringing in grants.

For many companies reliant on a strong STEM workforce to remain competitive, there is an inexpensive alternative to using their money and influence to solve the STEM teacher shortage: Hire scientists and engineers born and educated abroad. Fifty-three percent of the Ph.D.-level computer scientists in this country were born abroad, and 75 percent of Ph.D.-level aerospace engineers. Those are staggering numbers.

In 2005, the “Gathering Storm” report suggested a coordinated response to the STEM crisis, including the goal of producing 10,000 new STEM teachers a year by providing $20,000 a year in college scholarships for STEM majors who committed to teaching; $10,000-a-year salary increases for STEM teachers in hardest-to-staff schools; and $5 million incentive packages to universities to create programs for STEM majors to get bachelor’s degrees and teaching certificates simultaneously.

The report highlighted UTeach, which I co-founded in the late 1990s and currently co-direct. UTeach integrates STEM bachelor’s degrees with teacher certification and has expanded to 45 universities in this country. More than 85 percent of our graduates become classroom teachers, and more than 60 percent of them are in schools with majority low-income populations. Retention rates are strong: After five years, more than 80 percent of those who began teaching are still in schools.

These efforts—and those of other programs—could enable the United States to greatly reduce the STEM teacher shortage. A recent survey of more than 6,000 current and recently graduated STEM majors, which was sponsored by the American Physical Society, indicates that 35 to 55 percent would consider middle or high school teaching. There is also encouraging news in the finding of a relationship between STEM departments where college faculty simply discuss the possibility of teaching and increased student interest. Furthermore, 80 percent of those considering teaching say that incentives such as scholarships would make them more likely to teach.

But federal scholarships for STEM teachers are funded at less than 10 percent of the level “Gathering Storm” recommended, and what STEM majors and new STEM teachers say they most want are better working conditions and higher salaries. These are the hardest goals to achieve.

The current election season underscores the profound discontent with economic prospects and income inequality in the United States. There is no clear solution on how to address it. But education must be part of the solution. Kids from all economic classes and ethnic groups must have true access to fields ranging from computer science to finance. And there will be no cheap online fixes. Unless we finally resolve to pay what it takes to prepare and retain teachers for key STEM subjects, the next 30 years, like the last 30 years, will find us still shocked that our kids are behind, held back by our permanent STEM crisis.