California STEM Network News – March 2020

California STEM Network News


We’re All in This Together – COVID-19 Statement and Whole Child Resources from Children Now

Children Now is deeply concerned about the severe impact of the novel coronavirus on California’s children and families, especially children of color, families in poverty, families that are undocumented, and kids experiencing or who have experienced trauma.

During this time, we are continuing to keep children and their families at the center of our work. We are diligently monitoring a range of national, state and local updates and changes to guidelines as they are affecting children and families, as well as our diverse partners and government agencies. We are weighing in as appropriate to ensure that kids’ needs are being met, while recognizing the critical role of government and their need to move quickly to address the constantly evolving nature of this pandemic.

As an organization, we are also focused on how children and families, particularly those most vulnerable, will be impacted as we emerge from this health crisis and the effects of the economic recession. It is imperative that as we come out of this crisis, kids are the state’s top priority. We will continue to take a whole-child approach to assessing the path forward with perspectives on childcare, preschool, K-12 education, family supports, physical health, mental well-being, and child welfare.

Let’s work together and do what we can to stay safe during this difficult time, so that we can emerge from this crisis with a renewed focus on what matters – ensuring our kids have the quality supports and services they need to grow up healthy and thrive.

While there is a lot of information being shared right now, it can be hard to keep track of all the available resources. We’ve compiled key resources related to kids and families here  and will continue to refresh this page as we receive new resources or updated information.

Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act

The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act signed into law by President Trump on Friday, includes $31 billion nationwide in assistance for K-12 and higher education and more than $4 billion for childcare and Head Start. That should translate into at least several billion dollars for California schools and colleges.

Specifically, the bill provides:

  • $13.5 billion for K-12, with $12 billion distributed to school districts based primarily numbers of low-income students qualifying for federal Title I aid, and $1.3 billion for governors to distribute for emergency assistance. States would get considerable discretion to use the money to mitigate the impact from the pandemic; they also could fund internet connectivity and computers for distance learning;
  • $14.3 billion for higher education, with $12.4 billion split between emergency grants to students and money to colleges “for expenses directly related to coronavirus and the disruption of campus operations.” A billion dollars would be targeted to historically black colleges and universities and tribal colleges. The U.S. Education Department would receive $300 million to give to colleges most affected by the coronavirus;
  • $3 billion for governors to spend on K-12 or higher education in those areas hit hardest by the coronavirus;
  • $3.5 billion for childcare to provide childcare assistance, with an estimated $339 million coming to California. The money can be used to continue payments to childcare providers experiencing drops in enrollment or closures related to the coronavirus, in order to assure they can stay open, and to fund childcare to health care providers, first responders, sanitation workers, and other essential workers, without income restrictions;
  • $750 million for the federal Head Start preschool program.

The bill also would increase food assistance with $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs for meals for students when school is not in session.

To ensure states use the federal aid to supplement, not supplant, state education funding, the bill requires states to guarantee they would spend at least as much as they had been spending in order to access the federal money. That could be difficult for California since funding automatically drops under Proposition 98 in a recession. However, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would have the authority to waive this “maintenance of effort” provision.

In addition, Secretary DeVos would have the authority to grant waivers to provide states with more flexibility to use Title I dollars and to grant suspension of states’ annual K-12 testing requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act. For California, that includes the Smarter Balanced math and English tests, science tests and a test measuring language proficiency of English learners. The Secretary also would have to tell Congress if she thinks states should be given additional waivers from the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

According to state Department of Education projections, California is expected to receive $1.6 billion of the K-12 portion of the federal aid. However, it’s possible more money could be coming. The Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to introduce after the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act becomes law, would provide an additional $15 billion for K-12 funding.


State Board of Education

The California State Board of Education (SBE) met on March 11 and discussed two matters of particular significance to the STEM community. Much of what was discussed/determined will still govern administrative actions taken by state and local educational entities to advance policies; however, the disruptions related to the coronavirus will have drastic impacts on the execution of those policies.

First, in an informational (non-voting) item SBE explored next steps regarding accountability as reported on the state Dashboard. Plans were described for:

  • Making several adjustments and calculations needed to incorporate a (residual gain) growth model on the Dashboard. California chose the Smarter Balanced assessment system for English language arts and mathematics nearly 10 years ago in order to be able to track student progress attained irrespective of where that student was at the start of a year. The combination of the federal Department of Education waiving the requirement to test students this year and local school districts’ suspension of school (potentially for the entire school year, per Governor Newsom) means that, while the Department can continue to evolve a valid, stable, and reliable mechanism, growth itself may not be reported for another 4-5 years, since it requires three consecutive years of valid score reporting, and even the 20-21 school year’s scores may be inappropriate for establishing a baseline.
  • Adding testing data from the California Science Test (CAST) to the Dashboard. Multiple SBE members and public witnesses spoke to the importance of STEM and the power that publicly reporting CAST results will have in promoting awareness, understanding, and implementation of CA-NGSS-based teaching and learning. The previously announced plan had been to report 2018-19 and 2019-20 data on the School Accountability Report Card (SARC) and then report 2020-21 CAST status results and 2021-2022 performance color on the Dashboard. Given the suspension of testing, it now appears likely that only 2018-19 results will appear on local SARCs, and that 2020-21 will be the earliest possible data to appear on the Dashboard (depending on the validity of those results, if educational delivery continues to be disrupted). However, as with the greater growth measure, any ability to meaningfully monitor students’ progress will now be delayed by a minimum of two years. In the meantime, SBE identified a number of state and federal issues that need to be resolved in the coming months in order to ultimately include science testing data on the Dashboard in an appropriate way and include it within our accountability construct.
  • Adding measures within the College/Career Indicator, especially for alternative schools.
  • Reviewing and validating cut scores for the English Learner Progress Indicator, with a particular focus on ensuring that the thresholds represent sufficiently high expectations and rigor. This too, will suffer from the disruptions of education and testing, since three consecutive years’ data are required to assign a district’s color rating.

Second, the SBE received a presentation of the 2018/2019 science test results. These results were not promising. The percentage of students who performed at the combined levels of “standard met” and “standard exceeded” ranged from 31 – 32% among 5th and 8th graders, to 23 – 30% for high school students (23% was among 10th graders, who could not yet have completed a full NGSS-aligned course of study). Between 49 – 57% of students performed at the level of “standard nearly met” across grades.

The results revealed very significant gaps in performance, with particularly low scores logged for underserved students. For example, met/exceeded results levels were 59% for Asian, 44% for white, 19% for Latino, and 14% for African American students. Commensurate disparities existed for the level “standard not met” (while most ethnic groups maintained a percentage near 50% for “standard near met”). By program category, met/exceeded was reached by only 3% of English learners, 8% of students with disabilities, and 19% of economically disadvantaged students.

Several SBE members noted that the scores indicated that, while standards, frameworks, instructional materials, and assessments have all been adopted, local implementation of the teaching of NGSS-based science and engineering continues to lag greatly – although retiring member Ortiz-Licon noted that effective NGSS-based instruction appears to be happening for some subgroups of students. Several witnesses testified that while those foundational elements had been created, dedicated funding for science implementation has not been allocated as a catalyst (as it had been for math/ELA) for the heavy lift of instructional change. CAST data can be found at

We will continue to monitor developments at SBE and the state and federal departments and keep you apprised.


U.S. Department of Education Resources on Accessibility and Distance Learning Options

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the Department has released new information clarifying that federal law should not be used to prevent schools from offering distance learning opportunities to all students, including students with disabilities. This new resource from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) explains that as a school district takes necessary steps to address the health, safety, and well-being of all its students and staff, educators can use distance learning opportunities to serve all students.

To help schools provide distance learning in compliance with federal law, the fact sheet explains:

  • The Department recognizes that exceptional circumstances may affect how special education and related services and supports are provided to students with disabilities, and the Department will offer flexibility.
  • School districts must provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities, and the provision of FAPE may include, as appropriate, special education and related services that can be provided via computer, internet, or phone.
  • Although online learning must be accessible to students with disabilities, federal law does not mandate the specific methodologies by which distance education must be provided.
  • In instances where technology is not accessible or where educational materials are not available in an accessible format, educators may still meet their legal obligations by providing equally effective alternate access to the curriculum or services provided to other students.

The Department will continue to work with state and local leaders to identify any additional areas where it can provide resources to support educators in their important work, and both OCR and OSERS are available to provide technical assistance during these uncertain times. The Department continues to update with information for students, parents, educators, and local leaders about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.


Spring 2020 STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice

The STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice (SLE CoP) held March 2 – 4 in San Antonio drew record attendance and delegates from across the country as well as from Israel, Mexico, Kenya, and Nigeria. The event began just as guidance regarding how to protect ourselves from the novel coronavirus was being released. We used hand sanitizer a lot, were reminded about how to and for how long to wash our hands, and tried, but in many cases failed, to greet one another without a handshake or a hug. Looking back on the event, there was a lot we did that seems impossible or ill-advised today relative to social interactions, but that is not true for the learning that we engaged in, the thought-provoking presentations we experienced, and the wealth of resources we were exposed to in just two and a half days.

Vincent Stewart and Jessica Sawko attended the convening on behalf of the Bay Area STEM Ecosystem. Other California ecosystems represented included the East Bay STEM Network, Region 5 STEAM, Ventura County STEM Network, and the San Diego STEM Ecosystem. The convening was hosted by the Alamo STEM Ecosystem and Movimiento STEM, the latter is a STEM ecosystem based in México. The event included both general sessions and several break-out discussions. The highlights of the general sessions included presentations from students that reminded us how capable kids are and can be when supported with high-quality educational experiences, a compelling presentation from Dr. Kamau Bobb who addressed the many barriers to equity in STEM, and learning about STEM initiatives in México and Israel.

The Bay Area STEM Ecosystem, along with the Ventura County STEM Network, San Diego STEM Ecosystem, Greater Austin STEM Ecosystem, and Tampa Bay Ecosystem hosted an Ecosystem to Ecosystem (E2E) workshop. The purpose of the workshop was to share and discuss high-impact practices in navigating organizational change, such as new structures, leadership and strategy, while ensuring the collective impact of the STEM Ecosystem.

The next STEM Learning Ecosystems convening will be held in Detroit in December.


Afterschool Programs Assume Increasingly Important Role During COVID-19 Pandemic

The value and importance of afterschool programs, especially for our most vulnerable youth, is well researched and documented. Thus, it should come as no surprise, that as our state grapples with keeping us safe and our infrastructure running, afterschool programs are taking on an increasingly important role. And while these programs are dealing with school closures, increased demand for their services, and navigating federal, state, and local guidance, they are also worrying about continued funding.

Fortunately, at the same time afterschool programs are working hard to support kids and families, the California Afterschool Advocacy Alliance (CA3), of which Children Now is a member, focused their attention and advocacy efforts on securing continued funding for ASES and 21st Century Learning Center, joining with other organizations to advocate for the inclusion of non-profits in the federal stimulus package.

At first glance, now may not seem like the time to be worrying about the role and importance of STEM in our education system, but as we often share in our advocacy efforts, STEM engages kids and prepares them for the future. Let’s use this time to tap into STEM education’s ability to captivate kids’ attention and keep them interested in learning. Thanks for all that you’re doing; keep up the amazing work!


Bay Area STEM Ecosystem

The Bay Area STEM Ecosystem held its Winter 2020 Convening on February 25 at San Francisco State University (SFSU). Forty-five members of the ecosystem gathered for a half-day meeting to discuss how they can continue to work together as a community to expand access to high-quality STEM instruction for all students in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. The day started with a welcome from Carmen Domingo, Dean of the College of Science and Engineering. After lunch, SFSU President Lynn Mahoney, Provost Jennifer Summit, and Cindy Grutzik, Dean of the Graduate School of Education kicked off the second half of the meeting by sharing their thoughts regarding the importance of STEM education, the need to diversify the STEM workforce, the urgency of addressing the shortage of STEM teachers and how critically important a well-prepared teacher workforce is to our economy. The common vision and agenda articulated by SFSU leadership was a clear indication of the strong campus-wide connection and collaboration and especially between the College of Science and Engineering and the School of Education.

To better support collaboration and make connections among ecosystem partners, three members were invited to make brief presentations regarding a key organizational goal or initiative and to engage in a Q&A with the ecosystem. In addition, all attendees had the opportunity to share a statement that began with “I need” or “I would like to know more about” as a way to create connections and identify resources within the membership. The ecosystem was also provided updates regarding the STEM Resource Inventory Project that the California STEM Network is developing, the National Science Foundation STEM PUSH Network Grant (see next item), the STEM Learning Ecosystems Communities of Practices, and several state-level policy, budget, and legislative issues.

The next meeting of the Bay Area STEM Ecosystem will be in June. Please keep an eye out for an announcement with the exact date, time and location.


National Science Foundation STEM PUSH Network: Grant Update

As we shared with you in the last California STEM Network newsletter, the Bay Area STEM Ecosystem was selected as one of four regional STEM ecosystems (along with Pittsburgh, Chicago and New York) to participate in a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project, the STEM PUSH Network, which is focused on working with equity-focused higher education institutions, educational organizations and corporations to broaden the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM fields. The regional ecosystems will join a networked improvement community (NIC) and identify precollege STEM programs in their regions to strengthen their programming for underrepresented groups and generating effective practices to contribute to the broader field of precollege programming and equitable design and implementation. This work will result in an accreditation process that documents and communicates the value of precollege programs to create a currency that can be used in college admissions review and building stronger partnerships with postsecondary institutions. In February, we identified the four precollege STEM programs from our region to participate in the NIC: the California Academy of Sciences Careers in Science Internship Program, University of California, San Francisco High School Internship Program, MESA Cal State East Bay and the SMASH Academy.


California STEM Network Convening Update

As many of you know, due to concerns over the COVID-19 virus and travel restrictions issued in early March, we postponed the Winter 2020 convening of the California STEM Network to May 19. However, a great deal has changed in the past two weeks and the daily routines of our personal and professional lives have been altered in unimaginable ways. Like you, we are adjusting to a new set of circumstances that require us to live and work much differently than before. While we are committed to supporting our community of STEM educators and champions by providing opportunities for us to come together as colleagues, we realize that we may need to revise our plans and create new ways for us to engage virtually rather than in-person. Alternatively, we might also need to pivot from an all-day event to a series of  shorter, focused conversations regarding critical topics. We will keep you apprised as our thinking regarding the May convening evolves and certainly welcome your thoughts, suggestions and questions. In the meantime, we encourage you to register for the May 19 convening via the following link, as this will ensure your participation and that you receive our updates.

As always, we value your partnership and want to be a resource to you now and as we move through these difficult and unprecedented times.