Clothing Line Responds to Request for Girls’ Science-Themed T-Shirts

I can already tell that my nearly three-year-old daughter is going to have a proclivity for math and science. She has spatial reasoning for a toddler that I’ve never seen before and loves everything earth and science-based, including digging in the garden with me, learning about astronomy and “dinosnores” as she calls them (quite adorably).

She also loves playing with dolls and Cinderella is one of her favorite movies – sometimes she dresses up as a butterfly or princess and sings and dances around the house. At this age, she’s all about exploring the whole world around her – not just one tiny pink or purple sliver of it.

While a walk down the “girl” toy aisle might tell you differently, there are retailers that are catching on that girls have greater interests than just dolls and cute puppies and sequins. Science, math, Paleontology, sports and realistic-looking animals are not only for boys.

One retailer, Lands’ End, in response to a letter posted to its Facebook page (that went viral very quickly) by a mom concerned that she and her nine-year-old daughter, who loves science and astronomy, could not find science-themed graphic t-shirts in the girls’ section of the Lands’ End catalog – just the boys’ section – has taken steps to rectify the situation.

The company’s new line of science-themed t-shirts for girls launched on July 30. Posted on its Facebook page, the company notes that pre-orders are being taken and based on the response to the shirts, the company will continue to add new styles.

In response, the Lands’ End Facebook community has continued to ask for more gender-breaking apparel.

One Facebook fan writes, “Can we please also get ‘boy’ shirts with some more variety of colors (how about a purple?), and animals other than dangerous animals with teeth? And please take gender labels off of things like backpacks & lunchboxes that don’t have a different fit.”

Another writes, “Do these come in adult size? I’m a female astronomy teacher! I want one!”

This isn’t the first time a clothing retailer has been taken to task for its biased clothing line. Last year, I wrote about a t-shirt featured by The Children’s Place that alluded to young ladies that math was less important than (and they weren’t as good at it as) shopping, music and dancing. That shirt was quickly removed from store shelves and online.

Especially in an age where STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs are plentiful, necessary and well-paying, there is still a disparity in the number of women and minorities employed in those fields – though the gap is smaller than it has been in the past, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project. The program has a number of statistics on its web site that point to the disproportion of women and minorities in the STEM fields.

While the next generation of STEM workers probably doesn’t hinge on a t-shirt design (or lack thereof), it’s important to continue the drumbeat that girls are good at math and science and can get those well-paying STEM jobs that are so necessary for the future success of America.

Accountabilty Panel Continues to Work; Core 40 Panel Getting Started

Nearly a year has passed since the media storm surrounding Indiana’s school accountability measures and the decision by state leaders to appoint a panel to develop new accountability metrics. Unfortunately, despite 10 day-long meetings, the panel remains far from completing its work.

The Indiana Chamber’s Derek Redelman serves on the panel and reports that he and several other panelists have been frustrated by the lack of support. For example, despite being told at the panel’s first meeting last fall that both the Department of Education and the Legislative Services Agency would have data sets to separately test any ideas that the panel developed, they were not informed until the fourth meeting of the panel that neither agency actually had the promised data. Similarly, despite member requests at the very first meeting to engage national experts to help with this work, the first opportunity for the panel to meet with any experts did not occur until the panel’s eighth meeting – more than six months into their work.

The panel made some limited progress at its latest meeting on June 26, but significant issues – like the preferred method for measuring student growth; the main reason for the panel’s formation – remain far from decided. In the meantime, the timeline for completing this work is quickly approaching, so the panel will meet again on July 8.

Meanwhile, a new task force – this one charged with a review of Indiana’s Core 40 diploma requirements – began meeting on June 11. The panel was originally formed in response to legislation mandating the development of a new CTE (career and technical education) diploma that would have created Indiana’s fifth and least rigorous diploma option. The Chamber opposed that mandate and joined with the governor’s office, the Commission for Higher Education and the Department of Education to kill the proposal, while agreeing instead to review our current diploma options.

The new task force is co-chaired by Teresa Lubbers, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education, and Glenda Ritz, state superintendent of public instruction. It also includes representatives from K-12 education, career and technical education, higher education, and the business community – including the Chamber’s Derek Redelman.

Three questions appear likely to be the focus: 1) How can the diploma options provide an attractive and effective pathway for career and technical education students; 2) How can Algebra II (and/or other math requirements) be structured to effectively serve all college and career options; and 3) How should the diploma options be adjusted in response to rising remediation rates for college-bound students?

The next meeting of the task force is scheduled for July 24; recommendations are expected next summer.

Chamber Survey: Nearly 40% of Employers Left Jobs Unfilled Due to Under-Qualified Applicants

Jobs are there, but the employability of some Hoosiers isn’t matching what’s available says a new statewide survey by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Of the 532 participating employers, 39% (202) said they recently have left jobs unfilled due to unqualified applicants.

“That number is way too high and speaks to the work that policymakers, educators and employers still have to do. And also what individuals often need to do to make themselves more marketable for the type of employment they desire,” asserts Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. “Collectively, we need to do better at connecting the dots regarding the open jobs and the qualifications it takes to land one of them.”

The survey, in its seventh year, asked employers about their recruiting practices, training and continuing education offerings and skills needs in their workforce. More than 40% of the survey participants had under 50 employees and just over one-third represents manufacturing or advanced manufacturing industries.

In response to what education level is required for their unfilled jobs, two-thirds (67%) indicated beyond a high school degree, with 38% saying middle skills (certificates, certification or associate’s degree) and 29% a bachelor’s degree or higher. The most often cited occupations in need of good applicants were those in the skilled trades (such as an electrician or plumber) and engineering (from technician to design).

What makes getting the right talent pool mix all the more critical, Brinegar notes, is that 96% of the respondents said they expected the size of their workforce to increase or stay the same over the next 1-2 years. The majority – at 57% – are actually looking to add more employees during that time.

On a related topic, more than 70% of respondents (72%) said that filling their workforce was challenging, with nearly 20% labeling it the single biggest challenge they faced. “So even those that are able to find people for their open positions are having to spend more time on it than they would like, and more time away from the company’s direct mission,” Brinegar offers.

When it came to identifying what skills are the most difficult to find among applicants and new hires, several “soft skills” that are traditionally not assessed in an education setting were at the top.

Work ethic was the most lacking at 55%. Communication, problem solving and attendance/punctuality each registered 42-43%. Each of these soft skills was indicated as far more challenging to find than academic skills, such as reading, writing and math. Only 10% of the respondents said they had no challenges finding the skills they needed.

Derek Redelman, the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of education and workforce policy, emphasizes that “employers have tried to help themselves and their workers by offering tuition reimbursement, but not enough are taking advantage of the opportunity.”

Case in point: Over half of employers surveyed (242 of 447) reported having tuition reimbursement programs. Yet, 64% of those respondents (156 of 242) stated the programs were seldom used by their employees and 5% said they were never used. Only 31% of employers reported that their tuition reimbursement programs were used frequently.

“Hoosier employers are frustrated by the skills of available workers,” Redelman declares. “They are willing to invest time and resources to address those challenges, but what’s too often missing is the willingness of workers and applicants to pursue the training and skills that employers value.”

Employers surveyed also expressed interest in working with the education community to a greater extent. Two-thirds of respondents (67% of 458) said they felt businesses should be more involved in reviewing high school diploma and college degree requirements. And 90% felt employers should be more involved in the design of career and technical education (CTE) programs to make sure they were on target. Over half of employers (56% of 458) reported that they are currently involved with local schools, including internships (35%), classroom presentations (18%), job shadowing (16%) and more.

Consistent with last year’s results, over two-thirds of employers (72% of 508) said they were getting little to no support from Indiana’s workforce development system: Some 36% reported knowing about WorkOne but never having had any contact; 25% accessed the system but were not finding the services helpful; and 11% had no knowledge of these services. Only 19% of employers reported success in hiring applicants using WorkOne recruiters or the Indiana Career Connect job matching system.

“Given the continuing needs of employers and the persistent number of unemployed adults, these responses point to the critical importance of the Governor’s focus on these issues and, specifically, the development of a strategic plan through the Indiana Career Council and local employer engagement through the Works Councils,” Redelman concludes.

According to Brinegar, the results of this employer survey will also guide how the Indiana Chamber concentrates its efforts to achieve several goals under the organization’s long-term economic development plan, Indiana Vision 2025.

Among those goals: increase to 60% the proportion of Indiana residents with high quality postsecondary credentials, especially in the STEM-related fields (of science, technology, math and engineering); see a notable increase in Hoosiers having bachelor’s degrees or higher; and develop, implement and fully fund a comprehensive plan for addressing the skills shortages of adult and incumbent workers who lack minimum basic skills.

View the survey results and executive summary at www.indianachamber.com/education.

July/August BizVoice Building a Buzz

Today, we’re unveiling our July/August edition of BizVoice magazine.

And the headline is actually a joking nod to our cover story about drones… assuming they make some sort of buzzing sound as they fly. If they don’t, well, let’s just ignore it and move on.

This issue covers a gamut of topics. Here are a few of the top stories (but you can view the full edition via our interactive online version):

Indiana School Counseling Not Meeting Postsecondary Needs of Students

A new report commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Foundation finds that school counselors are not able to meet the range of postsecondary needs of students, due in large part to a stagnant system and a variety of situations often out of their control.

“What we have is a counseling issue, not an issue with the counselors,” explains Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. “In fact, the vast majority of counselors in the survey said they would like to spend more time providing college and career guidance.”

The Indiana School Counseling Research Review was conducted for the Indiana Chamber Foundation to assess the current state of school counseling and to see whether the landscape had changed much the last two decades. A 1994 statewide study titled High Hopes Long Odds had identified disparities in the way counselors provided college and career readiness to students.

“Unfortunately, little has progressed in 20 years,” Brinegar offers. “This is such a vital tool for middle and high school students, but far too little time is being spent with students on college and career readiness despite the obvious need.”

What prompted the Indiana Chamber to seek the research is the organization’s Indiana Vision 2025 economic development plan (www.indianachamber.com/2025), which features a focus on Outstanding Talent. Brinegar emphasizes, “One goal in the plan is to increase to 90% the proportion of Hoosier students who graduate from high school ready for college and/or career training; therefore improving the counseling aspect is critical.”

A total of 426 Indiana school counselors – 73% of them from high schools – were surveyed for the Indiana School Counseling Research Review.

According to the survey, 58% of respondents said that a quarter or less of their time is spent on college and career readiness activities; that number jumps to 90% of counselors when the timeframe for college/career readiness duties is placed at 50% or less. Fewer than 10% of counselors said they spent more than half their time in this key role.

The time disparity has noticeably increased in recent years. Derek Redelman, Indiana Chamber vice president of education and workforce development, notes that has much to do with “the real lack of clarity about school counselors’ roles and responsibilities that exists in many schools, with ‘tending duties’ pulling counselors in too many directions.”

Case in point: The Indiana Chamber report shows that just since 2010 the amount of time counselors are asked to devote to these non-counseling duties has more than doubled. In 2010, 18% of a counselor’s time was spent away from direct service to students; in 2013 it was 40%. (That translates to time spent on college and career guidance declining from 32% to the current 21%.)

“These other activities might include being the hall monitor, administering tests or even managing the school mascot,” Redelman states. “The bottom line is that a school counselor’s job duties include a growing catch-all list of non-related activities that takes them from their primary function. And that needs to be addressed. … Being unable to more frequently do their essential job is the number one thing we heard about from counselors.”

Another factor at play, the report concludes, is that counselor education programs are not providing sufficient preparation in college and career counseling.

“This means counselors don’t have all the information. This and the time factor speak to the larger issue of getting the needed information to students,” Redelman begins. “The report suggests a delivery model that would expand what professionals within a building share postsecondary information with students. We’re advocating for a more team approach to help bridge the gap.”

Other key observations in the Indiana School Counseling Research Review:

  • The accusation of too much focus on four-year degree options instead of all postsecondary options is confirmed
  • The accountability system is a driver of the problem but can also be part of the solution
  • Overall challenges are too extensive to address through counselors alone. There is a clear need to engage teachers, school administrators and parents

“As policymakers, we are increasingly focused on the need for students to be college and career ready,” says Teresa Lubbers, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education. “The problem is that too many students and families still don’t know what that means. This report highlights the need to redesign the counseling model, freeing counselors to focus more on readiness responsibilities rather than administrative tasks.”

The Indiana Chamber took the additional step of forming an advisory group to provide feedback on what efforts – programs and policies – could make the strongest impact. The advisory group included school counselors, principals, superintendents, community college partners, youth-serving organizations and government agencies.

“This group of advisors was asked to consider a range of initiatives that would have the most positive effect on student achievement, postsecondary attainment and career readiness through counseling services,” Redelman offers.

The end result was this set of Indiana Chamber goals and initiatives:

  • Continue to raise awareness. Consider developing a marketing campaign to expand the postsecondary opportunities made available for consideration by students.
  • Recognize successful programs and initiatives. Accomplished by exploring metrics and potential partners to recognize schools and/or counseling programs that have demonstrated success. Then use recognition to highlight a broad range of postsecondary success opportunities for students.
  • Communicate employer needs. Explore opportunities for organized employer tours for students and educators to foster deeper understanding of career opportunities. Also collaborate with partners to improve access to web-based information, including IndianaSkills.com.
  • Assist with data accessibility. Champion the continued development of the public user interface for Indiana’s longitudinal data system, which will make it possible for policy leaders to identify the greatest training and educational needs, and to evaluate progress in meeting those needs.
  • Create the right accountability incentives. Continue to work on school accountability task force.

Adds advisory group member Karin Ulerick, a counselor at Logansport High School: “Many of the topics we reviewed are ways to help counselors and students succeed. I appreciate the Indiana Chamber’s efforts surrounding how to support the work we (counselors) do each day and look forward to them getting the ball rolling on actual implementation of the initiatives.”

The Indiana School Counseling Research Review, which also includes comments from 11 personal interviews with key counseling leaders in the state, was produced by Matt Fleck of Fleck Education and the Partnership for College and Career Readiness.

View the executive summary and full report at www.indianachamber.com/education.

U.S. Lags in Infrastructure, Skilled Workers

Just this morning, you used a lot of different gadgets just getting ready for work. You probably begrudgingly shut off the alarm on your smartphone. You took a shower. You got in your car to drive on roads to get to your office.

Smartphone, shower, car, roads… all of these things took skilled people to conceive, design and build; and when any of them start to falter, it takes another skilled person to fix it. Your appliance-assisted morning was brought to you by MANY skilled, technical people!

Alex Marshall focuses on skills related to infrastructure in his column, “For Infrastructure’s Sake, America Needs Skilled Workers.” Marshall writes that the United States lags behind other countries when it comes to sophisticated infrastructure in part because it lacks the workers to build or maintain it. Emphasis on the “maintain it.”

“You can’t just take this super sophisticated technology from over there, and bring it here and make it work,” said David Gunn, former head of Amtrak, in a decade-old interview with Marshall, but the sentiment still rings true. “Because, I mean, you have to have people who actually have a toolbox and can stand there and make it work.”

IndianaSkills.com exists to share with job seekers what jobs are in demand and what skills are necessary to do those jobs. Due to a “skills gap” in Indiana and nationwide, this information is critical to inform the emerging workforce.

“We will need skilled labor and management, and the production of both should be a national priority,” concluded Marshall.

Indiana’s K-12 Education Standards Debate — Nearly Settled

UPDATE: On Monday, April 28, the State Board of Education approved new academic standards.

Monday is the day the State Board of Education votes on the draft K-12 academic standards. It’s the final hurdle in putting in place new standards for Indiana schools.

The origins of this standards debate were rooted in concerns about federal control. The Common Core academic standards, actually developed by governors and state superintendents, were viewed as a federal intrusion because President Obama and his Secretary of Education supported the standards – and they used federal “Race to the Top” grants to help entice states to adopt the standards.

Indiana selected the Common Core as its standards back in August of 2010  – a full four months after withdrawing from the Race to the Top grant competition. Nonetheless, federal intrusion theories took hold.

So just as the state Legislature mandated and Gov. Pence promised, a process was developed to assure – with absolute certainty – that Indiana had control over its standards. Indeed, no set of standards in Indiana’s history has ever engaged so many Hoosiers and provided for so much public input. They are Hoosier developed, Hoosier adopted and Hoosier controlled.

Ironically, those who pushed the hardest for this review process are now unhappy with the outcome. That’s because, as it turns out, Hoosier educators actually liked the Common Core standards (no surprise to us!) – even when compared to Indiana’s old standards and to other well-respected models.

So, yes, the new standards look a lot like Common Core. But it’s also important to note that Indiana’s old standards were a primary source in the development of Common Core, and Indiana policy leaders were actively involved in that development.  In reality then, the outcome of this review should come as no surprise to anyone.

In the end, Indiana’s new standards are consistent with the process that was demanded by some and promised by others; it has produced a set of standards that Hoosier educators have identified as the best standards for Indiana students. And wasn’t that the original goal of those who opposed Common Core in the first place?

Like it or not, Indiana has identified its own standards; we are adopting them voluntarily; and we have asserted and will maintain complete control over the future of those standards.

 

Complete College on Time with 15 Credits Per Semester

On-time graduation rates at public Indiana colleges and universities are staggeringly low. Only one in 10 students at two-year colleges finish a degree on time, and only three in 10 students finish a four-year degree on time, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s 2014 College Completion Reports.

The reports provide a robust, comprehensive picture of student success at each public college and university in Indiana. They include data on transfer and part-time students and disaggregated data by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status to focus attention on persistent achievement gaps.

Statewide, there’s a 24-point completion gap at two-year colleges between the highest-performing racial/ethnic group and the lowest-performing group. At four-year colleges, the gap is 31 points. Additionally, less than 4% of Pell grant recipients graduate on time from two-year colleges. About 17% of students receiving this need-based grant graduate on time from four-year colleges.

Why do these low graduation rates matter? First, graduating on time yields greater returns for students by lowering their cost per degree. The estimated cost of an additional year of schooling to a student is $50,000 in tuition, fees and lost potential income. What’s more: Indiana college graduates borrow over $27,000 for a four-year degree. As loan default rates rise, so does the importance of cutting college costs. The surest way to lower a student’s cost per degree is to finish sooner.

Second, institutions and the state bear significant costs for extra semesters as well, in lost productivity and additional financial aid awards. According to the College Completion Reports, four-year schools spend about $62,000 for each degree produced. About 30% of students don’t complete a four-year degree within eight years, adding to productivity losses for institutions.

Of course, for many students who are working or raising families, attending part-time may be the best option. Unfortunately, as students take additional semesters and hit state and federal financial aid limits, their probability of completing the degree declines. In fact, full-time students are six times more likely to graduate with a four-year degree than part-time students. And students who invest in their education but do not receive a diploma bear the greatest lost, reaping nearly zero return on their investment, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s Return on Investment Reports.

Fortunately, the state has made great strides on both policy and institutional levels to improve completion rates. For instance, thanks to recent reforms, state financial aid now funds completed credits rather than attempted credits to incentivize completion.

Additionally, credit creep legislation cut the number of credits per degree to 120 for four-year degrees and 60 for two-year degrees. This means students who take 15 credit hours per semester set themselves up to finish on time.

As we work to combat student loan default rates and the rising costs of college, we must continue to ask how we can use dollars more efficiently. Tackling graduation rates, and ensuring those who invest in their education complete it in the shortest time possible, is imperative to minimizing those costs.

To read institution-specific data in the 2014 College Completion Reports, visit the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s web site.

Hannah Rozow is a senior at Indiana University – Bloomington and a student representative on the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

A Good Focus: Highland High School’s Parent University

Our Ready Indiana staff recently traveled to Highland High School (Lake County) to talk with parents about their children’s options post-graduation. We were so impressed the Highland guidance team brought parents in to listen to experts on different school, graduation and post-graduation topics. Sometimes we forget that students spend much more time at home than at school — and parents play a major role in students’ decisions!

In our session, we defined “middle-skill” jobs and discussed statistics showing those jobs are most in-demand in Indiana right now. We demoed www.IndianaSkills.com and also discussed the Technical Honors Diploma. We were pleased with the interest parents had in learning about ALL the options their student has during and after high school.

We hope high schools that don’t have a similar program in place consider reaching out to parents with this information so they can help their student make informed post-graduation choices.

Education: Common Core, Career-Ready Standards Debates to Heat Up

(Above) Chamber Vice President Derek Redelman discusses the status of the state’s Common Core academic standards.

Additionally, the following is Redelman’s analysis of SB 91 (authored by Sen. Scott Schneider) on education standards:

As amended, SB 91 re-establishes guidelines for the review and adoption of state standards that is currently underway at the State Board of Education and is expected to be completed prior to July 1. It voids current state standards (Common Core) on July 1. It also eliminates restrictions on the State Board of Education in the development of a new state assessment system to be aligned with the new state standards, and requires the assessment plan developed by the State Board to be reviewed by the State Budget Committee.

Chamber Position: Neutral

Status: Amended and passed by the House Education Committee; now eligible for consideration by the full House.

Update/Chamber Action: As reported here previously, this bill does little other than allowing the standards review, currently ongoing with the State Board of Education, to continue. Yet, the continued rhetoric of Common Core opponents – suggesting for unexplained reasons that this bill somehow bans Common Core in Indiana – is likely a precursor of much more debate to come.

That debate now shifts to the draft math and English standards that were released this week and will now be the subject of public hearings, a month-long public comment period and likely more.

The Indiana Chamber is conducting a review of the draft standards and will share the results in coming days. As many people have anticipated, the draft standards contain a lot of components that are identical to Indiana’s current standards, which are the Common Core State Standards.

Opponents of the Common Core, including Sen. Schneider, have spent much of the last two weeks pronouncing that such an outcome would be an “outrage” and “unacceptable.” They’ve even spent time reviewing the credentials of those involved with the current review and have suggested that too many of these standards and curriculum experts have already shown support for Common Core.

Meanwhile, the closest that Common Core opponents have come to suggesting alternative standards has been their stated preference for Indiana’s 2009 standards, which were drafted but never adopted.

The incredible irony of that position is that Indiana’s 2009 draft standards were used as a primary model in the development of the Common Core State Standards. So if Common Core opponents continue to insist that the new standards cannot look in any way like Common Core, then it will also be impossible for the standards to look like Indiana’s 2009 standards, which Common Core opponents have touted!

But alas, this has been the nature of Indiana’s Common Core debates to date; all indications of the last two weeks suggest that those debates will continue with intensity throughout the next month. Public hearings on the draft standards will occur Monday in Sellersburg, Tuesday in Indianapolis and Wednesday in Plymouth. Online public comment will also continue through mid-March. And if all goes as planned, then the State Board of Education will be presented with new standards to adopt at its April meeting. We certainly look forward to the approach of that long-awaited conclusion – yet we know full well that there is much more still to come in these debates.