Commentary: How NOT to Make America Great Again

Dan Berglund, president of the State Science & Technology Institute, offers this analysis of the budget proposal offered by the Trump administration:

The Trump Administration’s skinny budget proposal calls itself, “A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” From the information contained in the document, it is clear the Administration does not view science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship and the economic development efforts built around those activities as the path forward to making “America great again.” The program eliminations and drastic cuts are not the way to move the country forward economically. So what is behind this proposal? Two things: 1) a fight over the proper role of the federal government in the economy, and 2) a negotiating tactic to attempt to lull advocates into thinking program survival or lesser cuts are a victory. A full community response is needed and all of us must get off the sidelines and on to the playing field.

The budget blueprint proposes drastic cuts for research at NIH, DOE’s Office of Science, NOAA and EPA and would eliminate a score of federal programs that serve as the cornerstone of federal activity in supporting an innovation economy, including the Economic Development Administration, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, ARPA- E, the Appalachian Regional Commission, SBA’s Regional Innovation Clusters program and CDFI Fund, among others. (The National Science Foundation is not mentioned in the proposal, so details on how much the Administration will propose it be cut will not be available until the full budget is released in April or May. Similarly, the Regional Innovation Strategies program is not mentioned specifically in the budget proposal.) All of these proposals are against the aims of SSTI’s policy platform for federal support of innovation economies.

Motivations behind the budget proposal
There appear to be two primary motivations behind the budget proposal: 1) a fight once again over the role of the federal government in the economy, and 2) a negotiating tactic to attempt to lull advocates into thinking program survival or lesser cuts are a victory.
Throughout the 62-page document there are recycled ideological talking points to justify program elimination. Many comments contained in the document indicate a fundamental lack of understanding of the programs they propose to eliminate or the belief that the federal government has no role in economic development, including:

  • EDA has “limited measurable impacts and duplicates other Federal programs”
  • MEP centers would “transition solely to non-Federal revenue sources, as was originally intended when the program was established”
  • Some SBA programs including Regional Innovation Clusters are targeted because “the private sector provides effective mechanisms to foster local business development and investment”
  • ARPA-E should be eliminated because “the private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies”

Never mind that numerous reports have been done about EDA’s economic impact, that Congress reauthorized the MEP program just last year with a funding structure that includes federal funding and without federal funding the remaining centers would drop their focus on small and medium-sized manufacturers, and that the private sector alone does not provide effective mechanisms to encourage economic development or disruptive energy R&D.

Beyond a clear ideological view that the federal government has no role in promoting economic growth — a position rejected since at least the early 1800s when the federal government funded canals and other key infrastructure items, it is hard to view this proposal as anything more than a negotiating tactic. As anyone who has bought a house or bargained for an item at a flea market knows, you start with a low ball offer knowing that you’ll settle higher and that both you and the seller will ultimately be happy with the final price.

But this budget is not a real estate negotiation and settling for reduced cuts and declaring victory should not be an option for any of us.

A concluding thought
There is broad popular support for an economic growth agenda focused on innovation, science, technology, and entrepreneurship. We regret the Administration’s initial proposal would send this country in a different direction. We look forward to doing our part and working with others to make our case to Congress.

Blinding Music Fans with Science

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While I’m passionate about music, it’s rare that I don headphones and pop in a CD to inspire me during the workday. Perhaps I should change my tune.

Turns out there’s a melodious connection between music and productivity. Check out this Business Insider story to see – and hear – for yourself.

The story offers several approaches to boosting productivity. One involves choosing songs that feature sounds of nature:

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently discovered that adding a natural element could boost moods and focus.

Sounds of nature can mask intelligible speech just as well as white noise while also enhancing cognitive functioning, optimizing the ability to concentrate and increasing overall worker satisfaction, the researchers found. The mountain stream sound researchers used in their study also possessed enough randomness that it didn’t distract test subjects.

Other examples include listening to songs you enjoy, songs you don’t really care about (the horror!), songs without lyrics, songs with a specific tempo and songs played at medium volume.

Let’s rock!

Science on Display: Dow Ambassadors Connect with Students

dowAsking 10-year-olds their opinions about school subjects sometimes can yield unenthusiastic responses.

But when questioned if she enjoys science, Kelli Woods – a fourth grader at New Augusta South Public Academy in Indianapolis – passionately nods and answers, “Yes, very much – because I get to learn about new stuff and find out how it works.”

Kelli describes the project she entered in the school’s fourth grade science fair, in which she tested how soaking white roses in colored water would impact their appearance.

“My hypothesis was that the red (would make the rose change colors fastest) because it stains a lot,” she explains. “But it was actually the blue one.”

Dow AgroSciences’ Science Ambassadors gave guidance and judged the projects of Kelli and her classmates in late January in the New Augusta South gymnasium.

The scene was not a unique one as Dow’s brigade of over 300 staffers volunteer their time each year, often on nights and weekends. Last year, the ambassadors visited over 25 schools during about 75 events. Dow developed the program a decade ago, but added a major emphasis in 2012. Since then, officials estimate the company’s outreach efforts to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education have impacted more than 4,200 teachers and almost 200,000 students.

Read the full story online.

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.

Students Get the Answers, But Not the Reasons

Scientists! We need more scientists! But they may not be coming from current students, according to a report based on a highly regarded 2009 national science assessment.

The State Science & Technology Institute provides the analysis:

When testing fourth-, eighth- and twelfth-grade students on their ability to conduct science experiments and thoughtfully explain the results, investigators made three key discoveries that policymakers say may be troubling for future workforce needs. The National Center for Education Statistics Science in Action report found that when using limited data sets, students could make straightforward observations on the data. However, most struggled to explain the results and were challenged by parts of investigations that contained more variables to manipulate or involved strategic decisionmaking.

More than 2,000 students participated in interactive computer task assessments and updated hands-on tasks that involved more open-ended scenarios. These activity-based tasks were administered for the first time as part of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science assessment. NAEP reported that such tasks require a deeper level of planning, analysis and synthesis, thus allowing researchers to understand not only what students know, but how well they are able to reason through complex problems and apply science to real world situations. Topics included predicting how seeds travel, determining what materials make up four metal bars in magnetic properties, and determining what type of plant pigments certain organisms contain.

Researchers made the following three key discoveries from student performances across the tasks:

  • Students were successful in conducting experiments with limited sets of data and making straightforward observations of that data;

  • Students were challenged by investigations that contained more variables to manipulate or involved strategic decision making to collect appropriate data; and,

  • The percentage of students who could select correct conclusions from an investigation was higher than for those students who could select correct conclusions and also explain their results.

While science was heavily integrated in daily schoolwork for fourth- and eighth- graders, only about half of twelfth graders reported that they were enrolled in a science course and only 28 percent were writing reports on science projects at least once a week.

The results could be troubling for policymakers and educators working to ensure a competitive U.S. workforce. David Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, expressed concern that students are only grasping the basics and not doing the higher-level analysis needed to succeed in higher education and compete globally. 

Title IX Celebrates 40 Years of Equality

I spent the weekend playing with my daughter, not realizing that Saturday was the 40th anniversary of a law that impacts both of us. Had I known, we might have celebrated. Well, as much as a nearly six-month-old can celebrate anything, that is.
 
To honor the achievement of Title IX, I’d like to give a quick history lesson. The legislation was signed into law on June 23, 1972 by President Richard Nixon and says this: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
 
That’s it. It’s such a simple sentence – such a basic idea – and yet it does so much. And it doesn’t just affect women, although that is who benefitted the most from the law in 1972 and in years since.

In a recent Indianapolis Star article, the bill’s author, former Indiana Congressman Birch Bayh said at the time he knew the legislation was just the right thing to do. He’d grown up surrounded by strong women and he recognized that they should have the same ability as he did to attend college and be employed.
 
Title IX applies to a wonderful variety of issues: access to higher education, career education, education for pregnant and parenting students, employment, learning environment, math and science, sexual harassment, standardized testing and technology. It is a vital piece of legislation for our higher education and workforce – opening up the playing field for women educators and innovators, business women and athletes.

And while Bayh hadn’t anticipated that the literal “playing field” would be opened up and affect high school and college athletics the way it has over the past 40 years (virtually changing the landscape of athletics across the nation), that is what most people associate with Title IX, typically without realizing the vast many other topics to which the law applies.

I’m sure I’ve never given this much thought to Title IX. For me, this was just what I was expected to do: get good grades and play sports (I played golf, tennis and basketball), apply for and get accepted at the college of my choice, and follow my desires to a career in journalism and writing. I’ve never before paused at any of those fundamental freedoms that I have enjoyed.

It’s not been until I had my own child that the importance of this law has truly dawned on me – to know that just 40 years ago many of our mothers were either not allowed or didn’t have the option of playing organized sports in high school because they were girls. That they could be turned away from the college or university of choice because they checked the box marked “Female.”

It is amazing how far we have come that just two generations apart have such starkly different opportunities.

So, cheers to a one-sentence, life- and society-changing piece of legislation written by an Indiana congressman 40 years ago. I think we will celebrate with some pureed pears.