Jemison: More women and minorities needed in the sciences

Dr. Mae C. Jemison, a physician and former astronaut, was the first African-American woman to travel in space. She is in town this week for a conference on science education, designed to urge industry leaders to do their part to bring more women and minorities into the science and technology fields, and I asked if she would write a piece for us. Here it is. -Katy

I travel a lot.

In my travels, I get to meet lots of people from all walks of life. Many of them ask me when I first got interested in science.

The truth is, I can’t remember when I wasn’t.

Like most kids, I was born curious about the world. As children, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what’s what — like the fuzz between the couch cushions, asking our parents why the sky is blue and being both fascinated and frightened by thunder and lightning.

Growing up and deciding to become an astronaut wasn’t hard. But finding people who looked like me – female and African-American as images to assure and guide me – that was difficult.

Today, much has changed yet much remains the same. Yes, we’ve elected our first African-American president, something of which we should all be proud, but as a country we haven’t done a very good job of bringing women, African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans into Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) fields … and today, we need them more than ever.

While these groups make up roughly two-thirds of our nation’s workforce, they represent only one-quarter of the STEM workforce. That has to change. Why? Continue Reading


Lessons from a “small school from the ‘hood”

photo of Oakland Charter Academy student by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune

The racial and economic achievement gap comes up, in some form or another, at almost every Oakland school board meeting. Yet there are a handful of schools here in this city that have made that gap invisible, at least on their campuses, and I sometimes wonder who is paying attention.

Take the Oakland Charter Academy, a charter middle school in Fruitvale with a Latino population of about 93 percent. Last year those students — the vast majority of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunches — scored a 902 this year on the state’s Academic Performance Index out of a possible 1,000 points.

The average Latino middle schooler in California scores in the 600s.

I wrote a story in today’s Trib about the loads of work that these kids (and those at the American Indian charter schools, which use a similar model) are putting in every day — and about the general skepticism surrounding their success. You can read it here.

Continue Reading


Denied: new American Indian charter school

The five local schools that use the American Indian Public Charter model might be among the highest-scoring public middle and high schools in Oakland (not to mention the state), but tonight, the state administrator stopped a new one from opening.

David Montes de Oca, Oakland’s charter schools director, was careful to say that his recommendation to deny the charter petition “is not a condemnation of the American Indian Public Charter School model or its schools — far from it.”

The problem, Montes de Oca said, was Continue Reading


Judge puts the brakes on Algebra I plan

California’s bold new algebra plan has a new variable.

Today, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang ruled that the state board of education would have to temporarily delay the eighth-grade Algebra I testing requirement that it approved in July. (You know, the one that Schwarzenegger pushed for in the 11th hour, over State Superintendent Jack O’Connell’s strong objections?)

The ruling was made in response to a lawsuit to stop the new requirement. It was filed in September by the California School Boards Association and the Association of California School Administrators.

Chang has ordered the state board to hold off any any decisions on the algebra test until a court hearing on Dec. 19. Continue Reading


Meet Oakland’s 2008 teachers of the year

As OUSD tries to recruit more local teaching talent, it’s only fitting that Herman Brown (left), a math teacher at West Oakland’s Cole Middle School, was named an Oakland Teacher of the Year for 2008.

Brown, a 33-year teaching veteran, wasn’t just born and raised in West Oakland; he lives so close to Cole that he walks to work in the morning, Principal Ivory Brooks said.

Brooks said Brown is a mentor to many at the school. “He is really an inspiration to the other teachers,” he said.

Oakland’s other teacher of the year is Karen Pezzetti, who teaches 12th-grade English at Youth Empowerment School in East Oakland. Pezzetti has been teaching for six years, has a master’s degree in education, and still loves her job. Here’s what she wrote about it:

“Ultimately, I am excited to wake up each morning. Continue Reading


State law lets districts pay math and science teachers more — if the unions agree

In April, I blogged about a bill authored by Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) that would allow districts to pay math and science teachers more than their colleagues, as long as their respective teacher’s unions approved. (Read the entry here.)

Here’s an update for you: Gov. Schwarzenegger announced this morning that he signed SB 1660. That means that California law no longer requires all public school teachers in a district to be paid according to a uniform salary schedule.

The legislation seems to be an effort to recruit more math and science teachers to public school classrooms; lawmakers said the shortage could reach 33,000 in the next 10 years, and that was before the new eighth-grade Algebra I requirement. Continue Reading


Want to mandate 8th-grade algebra? It’ll cost $3 billion, O’Connell says

California’s superintendent of public instruction says that in order for Gov. Schwarzenegger’s de facto eighth-grade Algebra I requirement to work, the state will need to pony up $3.1 billion — “with a `b'” — dollars for smaller math classes, additional class time, more school counseling services, and expanded after school and summer programs.

State Superintendent Jack O’Connell said he was aware that he was making the spendy Algebra I Success Initiative proposal during state budget negotiations marked by deep deficits and planned cuts to education, health and social services. He also noted that the $3 billion proposal mostly included ongoing costs, rather than one-time expenses.

“If the governor is unable to come up with this (funding), then he should encourage the state board to reconsider this mandate,” O’Connell said during a teleconference this morning. Continue Reading


Girls are just as good as boys in math, study finds

Girls tackle basic and complex mathematical problems as well as boys do, a departure from the findings of a 1990 study that found significant gender differences, a UC Berkeley professor and her research team from the University of Wisconsin concluded.

Armed with a National Science Foundation grant, the team crunched the standardized test scores of 7 million students to see how the boys’ and girls’ averages measured up. They also compared the percentages of boys and girls who scored at the high end of the spectrum to see if there were more boys than girls at the top. There weren’t.

The reason? Well, it’s not earth-shattering. Researchers think it’s because girls are finally taking the same number of advanced math courses as boys.

Notably, the researchers had to look beyond the standardized tests required by NCLB to determine how well children of each gender solved complex problems. They combed 10 state exams for examples of highly challenging, real-world math — and found zilch, according to this news release: Continue Reading


Report: Shortage of Algebra I teachers is missing from the equation

Even without the de facto eighth-grade Algebra I mandate, middle schools across the state have struggled to find enough teachers with a solid foundation in the subject. So what’s going to happen now, with the rapid expansion of middle school algebra?

The Santa Cruz-based Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning just published a brief on the subject, titled “California’s Approach to Math Instruction Still Doesn’t Add Up.”

Here’s an excerpt:

The number of middle school students enrolled in Algebra I classes in which the teacher is either underprepared or assigned “out-of-field” rose from 73,000 in 2004 to more than 74,000 in 2007. In California, about 32% of the workforce assigned to teach Algebra I in middle school does not have a subject matter credential in mathematics and may lack the background and preparation necessary to effectively teach the subject.

Read the four-page brief here.

Educators and policy-makers seem to agree that Algebra I is a tricky subject to teach and learn. So how are kids supposed to learn it from someone with a layman’s understanding of the material? Continue Reading