East Bay STEM Network Releases Early Math Policy Recommendations
The East Bay STEM Network, a regional effort focusing on the importance of early math education, has just presented its Early Math Policy Recommendations to the California Assembly Select Subcommittee on STEM Education. The Network, comprised of educators, researchers, business leaders and civic organizations, has met since 2011, assembling research and conducting pilots aimed at overcoming the achievement gap that stems from disparities in math skills among low-income children of color. Chaired by Leroy M. Morishita, Ed.D., President of the California State University East Bay, the Network’s Early Math Policy Recommendations have been signed by education leaders including the superintendents of the Alameda and Contra Costa County Offices of Education, and by employers including Wareham Development, Bayer, Genentech, Cisco, Broadcom, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The Network is currently embarking on a public awareness campaign that will advocate for policy changes and funding in Sacramento later this year.
The Op-Ed penned by President Morishita follows:
Early Math: It’s Fundamental
by Leroy M. Morishita, Ed.D.
President, California State University East Bay
There’s an achievement gap that keeps me up at night. It’s the disparity in math skills that leaves low-income children of color starting kindergarten 20 months behind their more fortunate peers.
Why, you may wonder, would the president of a four-year public university worry about the math proficiency of preschoolers? Because I see its impact every day. The math equity gap, the difference in achievement and attainment that begins in kindergarten only widens as children get older, and leaves a majority of today’s students entering the California State University system unprepared for college-level math. This slows their ability to complete coursework in their majors, and can impede them from enrolling in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors or even finishing college.
And, realistically, being able to reason numerically is increasingly important in a digital world that requires quantitative skills to achieve at higher levels. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data show that U. S. math preparation has dropped to 41st worldwide – behind China, Canada, Vietnam, Russia, and Latvia, to name a few countries on the list.
The disparity in kindergarten can lead to despair a dozen years later.
But I have hope. For many of our children, this is a problem we can fix. The East Bay STEM Network, which I co-chair, is a group of educators, researchers, business leaders, and civic organizations who, since 2011, have come together to overcome the challenges of STEM education for California’s diverse population. Earlier this year, the STEM Network presented its Early Math Policy Recommendations to the state Assembly, proposing solutions that are the result of years of research and promising pilots.
First, we need to understand that our preschool and elementary teachers, as hard as they work, are generally not adequately prepared to teach math in a way that builds understanding and curiosity. The teacher credentialing process needs to be strengthened and streamlined, and professional development for existing teachers needs to be prioritized and made accessible and affordable.
We need to understand that math competency in early childhood is an even more powerful predictor than literacy of future academic and career success. Today’s preschools spend only about one-third the time teaching math compared to reading. These are both fundamental strengths that need to be laid down early, when the brain is developing with breathtaking speed.
Finally, we must all learn to overcome our math-phobia, especially around young children. In classrooms and after-school programs, on a walk and at museums, around the kitchen table, we can engage our children in counting, measuring, and ordering. Did you know that when you play a dice game, you are teaching the skill of seeing six dots as a set, without having to count out each dot? It’s called subitizing, and it’s a fundamental math skill.
We know that investments in these recommendations can bring results. The Hayward Promise Neighborhood initiative, a community-based collaboration led by Cal State East Bay and funded over the last six years through the U. S. Department of Education, has created nearly 200 new preschool openings for young children in a low-income neighborhood, and provided training for educators to teach both math and literacy. When the participating children entered kindergarten, more than 90 percent of them were proficient in both math and English. This is more than double the countywide readiness rate.
The East Bay STEM Network is endeavoring to build a regional ecosystem to carry the message that early math education is one of the best investments we can make in our children—and in the talented workforce our STEM-based economy demands.
The Network’s Early Math Policy Recommendations have been signed by education leaders including the superintendents of the Alameda and Contra Costa County Offices of Education, and by employers including Wareham Development, Bayer, Genentech, Cisco, Broadcom, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Network participants are advancing the agenda as well. The East Bay Economic Development Alliance is leading the public awareness campaign including a Family Math Day at Children’s Fairyland in Oakland on September 14. A $1 million grant from the Malavalli Family Endowment for Early Math Education will help launch a family engagement program at a Hayward preschool this fall that we hope to scale throughout the East Bay. Businesses are training employee volunteers as early math coaches.
Imagine if we could get all our students ready for kindergarten, proficient in the twin foundations of English and math? We could look to higher academic achievement and stronger interest in school as children gain confidence and curiosity. More students would continue their STEM studies and go on to become the talented individuals our state is calling for: engineers, cancer researchers, inventors, alternative energy experts.
Starting at the beginning can lead to lifetime success and eliminate years of later remediation and expensive interventions. Early math education is an excellent investment in our future that we cannot defer.
About California State University East Bay
Cal State East Bay, serving Alameda and Contra Costa Counties as part of the 23-campus California State University system, is the most diverse campus in the nation, according to a 2017 report from U. S. News & World Report. With 60% of its 16,000 students being the first in their family to attend four-year college, Cal State East Bay is committed to educating students as individuals, citizens, and future members of the Bay Area’s dynamic workforce. The University is also charged with preparing future teachers from pre-kindergarten through community college. In 2011, Cal State East Bay created the Institute for STEM Education to advance its mission to bring quality education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math especially to historically underserved communities throughout the East Bay and beyond.
About the East Bay STEM Network
Since 2011, the East Bay STEM Network has served as a leadership hub for regional stakeholders by convening educators, business and elected leaders, and non-profits to work toward systemic STEM education reform. The Network employs a Collective Impact approach to regularly convene key stakeholders—many of whom had not previously worked together— to forge a regional STEM education effort that Congresswoman Barbara Lee has lauded as one of the most effective in the nation. Focus areas include early childhood education, out-of-school learning, professional development for teachers, and the high school to college/career transition.