President’s Message: Mike Walsh
Leading from the front: Preparing California students for STEM success
The willingness to push boundaries and expand frontiers is the hallmark of California. We’ve always been willing to lead and, as a result, we’ve developed some of the most vibrant industries in the world. Many of these industries are based in whole, or in part, on the application of the “STEM” disciplines: science, technology, engineering and math.

From the iconic companies of Silicon Valley to San Diego’s biotech firms, from Greater LA’s aerospace and entertainment industries to agricultural applications in the Central Valley, science and technology are the economic engines driving California’ economy. If we want to keep it that way — and maintain our global leadership — we must prioritize thoughtful approaches to STEM education that increase both student learning and equity.

CSBA’s continued leadership on STEM education will be on full display at next month’s Leadership Institute, scheduled for July 13 and 14 in San Francisco. This year’s event, titled The Science of Leading Students to STEM Success, will provide a wealth of tools, information and resources related to student achievement. The presentations and workshops will provide crucial insights on policies and practices that governing teams can use to support STEM learning and promote equity, access and excellence.

The timing of this event is no coincidence. We are at a crossroads in public education where we can seize the opportunity presented by emerging technologies and renewed enthusiasm for science or allow it to pass us by without making the necessary adjustments for student success. A vivid example of this can be found in the California Computer Science Standards Advisory Committee, which has begun to discuss its vision for the study of computer science.

Back in 2014, Assembly Bill 1539 was passed requiring “the Instructional Quality Commission to consider developing and recommending to the state board, on or before July 31, 2019, computer science content standards for kindergarten and grades 1 to 12, inclusive, pursuant to recommendations developed by a group of computer science experts.” This task is unique because the Computer Science Standards Advisory Committee is essentially creating its standards from scratch, not updating existing standards in more widely taught disciplines, like English, history or math.

Among the many challenges the committee faces is how to provide guidance on curriculum and instruction that is universal, yet, at the same time, offers enough flexibility to allow for differences in local capacity and context. As recently as a few years ago, only 10 percent of California high schools even offered a computer science course. Now, we are on the verge of statewide instruction in this field. That’s a significant learning curve and board members need to be prepared for the new policy environment.

It’s worth noting that the computer science standards will be what the state calls “permissive,” which basically means elective and not mandatory. This has good and bad aspects. On one hand, it eases the implementation burden for poor or rural districts that might struggle to adopt the new standards. On the other, it’s likely to increase inequity as districts located in areas with greater access to resources and experts will pull ahead of students in less-advantaged districts. At this time, the state is not providing any money for hardware purchases or wireless access. In addition, the draft standards are not accompanied by curriculum or instructional materials and districts will probably have to purchase them from private sector vendors or develop their own. That’s complicated by the fact that the state has not set aside any money for professional development to train existing teachers on teaching computer science or integrating principles from computer science into existing courses.

Many of these questions echo those related to the Next Generation Science Standards, another area where there is a need for more resources and assistance from the state to support implementation. The field test (essentially a trial run) for NGSS was just administered by all local educational agencies to eligible students in grades five, eight and 12 (LEAs may opt to administer the high school assessment to students in grades 10 and 11), and the first full, statewide assessment will be administered next spring. LEAs will receive the results for their students, including preliminary indicators, later in the fall, and must determine how to best communicate the results to students, families and other stakeholders. The California Department of Education will also make results publicly available in late fall. Effective communication about these results and district implementation efforts will be critical to placing these results in the proper context, especially considering that proper implementation takes time and the fact that science instructional materials are not scheduled to be adopted by the State Board of Education until November 2018.

This is a lot for any board member to take in, much less one without a background in science, technology, curriculum development or instruction. CSBA’s 2018 Leadership Institute will demystify many of the issues surrounding STEM education and show how governance teams can support students and keep California at the forefront of innovation.