"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Raytheon Enters Education Research Field; Gates Provides Seed Money

Heard the line about not having enough engineers and scientists available to keep America on top in the global market? Get ready to hear it again. Raytheon - yes, the same Raytheon that is the world's leading producer of missiles - recently donated a sophisticated modeling program to help figure out how to engineer an education system capable of creating more and better STEM graduates. Raytheon makes the "staying competitive in the global economy" argument for reforming education - which they blame for not producing enough STEM workers. Question for Raytheon: are you aware of how painfully boring STEM subjects are for a large chunk of the population, particularly those who had negative experiences with math at the younger grades - like those drilled in many old school math environments seen in test prep academies and authoritarian classrooms that you're pushing in your education engineering project?). Raytheon's brand of fearmongering and bashing of public education for STEM issues is without merit, as explained by Gerald Bracey in this 2008 post.

But Bill Gates is interested. Interested enough to provide seed money for the project. Can you say education-military-industrial complex?

From the Defense News (my bolds):

New Raytheon Program Analyzes 'STEM' Candidates

By ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL
Published: 8 Jul 2009 19:03

Raytheon and the Business-Higher Education Forum unveiled an open-source computer modeling program July 8 focused on math and science education. The program is designed for use by educators, policy makers and researchers to aid education policy and planning decisions.

The defense industry is bracing itself for growing shortages of skilled engineers and scientists as older workers prepare to retire and are not replaced at a full rate. The program, which Raytheon engineers started developing in 2006, looks at roughly 200 variables to judge the likelihood a student will graduate with a degree in one of the "STEM" subjects - science, technology, engineering or math - and enter industry or become a teacher in one of those fields.


"We decided to use the same methods that had been applied to large, complex engineering systems," Swanson said. "These tools help us determine what systems designs will work and be cost-effective and which should be abandoned because they have limited capabilities or high cost or worse yet, just won't work over time."
The program is intended to help effective educational methods rise to the top, said Raytheon Chief Executive Bill Swanson. Whereas a lot of ideas have worked locally, there is no "one size" for all educational systems. In looking at how to model the use of effective educational methods, Raytheon used the same systems engineering, modeling and simulation it uses for defense programs, Swanson said.

The model itself looks like a group of spiders, mapping a person's education and career from birth to retirement. It looks at the short- and long-term impacts of changing certain variables and produces a graph showing changes in the number of college graduates in STEM subjects as a result.

The model also looks at variables such as teacher pay, class size, student interest in science and math, teacher attrition rates and gender differences over the course of a person's education from kindergarten to college.

Raytheon gifted the program, called the U.S. STEM Educational Model, to BHEF. BHEF in turn launched the program into open-source use, which means users can suggest changes and research to improve the model. The model is based on research including test scores and localized studies, yet more research is needed, panelists at the unveiling said.

"There are many areas where we need much more research. … to help fill in some of the gaps. In the meantime, we often make assumptions," said Brian Wells, chief system engineer at Raytheon. Raytheon and BHEF are hoping researchers and users of the program will add research. That research, and changes suggested in the open-source environment, will be reviewed by other users, speakers at the unveiling said.

The program can be downloaded for free at www.STEMnetwork.org. Vensim Simulation Software from Ventana Systems is needed to run the software.

The program will be overseen by the STEM Research and Modeling Network, a partnership between Raytheon, BHEF and The Ohio State University. The partnership got some "seed money" from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but more funding, perhaps a few million a year, will be needed in the future, depending on what other initiatives the network decides to pursue, such as educational awards, said Brian Fitzgerald, executive director of BHEF.

The BHEF is an organization of executives from Fortune 500 companies, university presidents and foundation leaders who focus on educational issues and enhancing U.S. competitiveness.

2 comments:

  1. Kristin Graves11:46 AM

    "Question for Raytheon: are you aware of how painfully boring STEM subjects are for a large chunk of the population, particularly those who had negative experiences with math at the younger grades - like those drilled in many old school math environments seen in test prep academies and authoritarian classrooms that you're pushing in your education engineering project?)." Huh? How do extrapolate that Raytheon is "pushing" old school methods from this announcement? It seems they are trying to find new methods to engage students in STEM subjects.

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  2. Kristin,
    You're right - I should back off from that claim. But Raytheon is looking to produce more STEM graduates, which is based on a pretty faulty premise (read the Bracey article). It's the same claim that has been made for a very long time - a shortage of math and science graduates (and engineers) will leave America behind in the global marketplace (and end America's global domination). The newest iteration of this claim is the "China and India are producing tons of STEM people and will out compete us in the global market because of it" spiel pushed by Duncan and his brand of education reformers. This is the rationality that has pushed more math and science drilling in the past to the severe detriment of other subjects - although Raytheon isn't quite pushing those methods these days.
    Regardless, this project is aimed strictly at increasing the number of STEM graduates. Does this help us address issues of equity and quality in public education, or is it an escapade that is intended to benefit American industry and the military-industrial establishment?

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