ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News

NAEP Results Show Lower Math Scores, Stagnant Reading Scores.

Several national media outlets have covered the latest National Assessment or Educational Progress results, generally focusing on stagnant or declining scores and low numbers of students deemed ready for college. The AP  (4/27, Kerr) reports that US high school seniors “are slipping in math, not making strides in reading and only about one-third are prepared for the academic challenges of entry-level college courses.” The scores show that only around 25% “performed proficiently or better in math,” while only 37% “were proficient or above in reading.” The AP says acting National Center for Education Statistics Commissioner Peggy Carr “said the report suggests a pattern in scores for reading that needs a deeper look,” quoting her saying, “There is a gap, a widening of a gap of higher and lower ability students, and I think that’s something we need to think about.” The AP reports that Education Secretary John King “says schools have undergone ‘some of the most significant changes in decades’ as teachers retool their classroom practices to adapt to new and higher standards.” The piece quotes King saying, “We know the results of those changes will not be seen overnight, so we need to be patient — but not passive — in continuing to pursue the goal of preparing all students for success after high school.”

Explaining that the NAEP is “an annual multiple choice test taken by thousands of randomly selected 12th grade students across the country,” the Christian Science Monitor  (4/27) reports “average reading and math scores slightly decreased from 2013.” Despite the dearth of movement in average scores, the results “reveal a widening gap between proficient and below-average students,” meaning “top-achieving students are scoring better and the struggling students are scoring worst.” Meanwhile, the Monitor reports that some observers now question the test’s relevance.

The Los Angeles Times  (4/26, Resmovits) reports that the scores among low performers declined, and says that Carr is worried about “the gap between students who tested well and those who tested poorly.” Meanwhile, though ELL students saw an increase in scores, “students with disabilities remained stagnant, and students who reported that their parents didn’t finish high school dropped by four points.”

Liana Heitin writes at the Education Week  (4/12) “Curriculum Matters” blog about the “striking detail” that “the lowest achievers showed large score drops in both math and reading,” with students “at or below the 10th percentile” seeing a six-point drop.

The Huffington Post  (4/28) reports that Carr said that the decline in the high school dropout rate could mean that more low-performing students wound up taking the NAEP, driving down scores. The piece quotes her saying, “Overall the drop out rates have improved. That means we have students who normally would not be there [but] are there.”

The CBS Evening News (4/27, story 11, 0:20, Pelley) reported the “nation’s report card” from the National Center for Education Statistics shows only 37 percent of 12th grade students are prepared for college in math and reading.

The NPR  (4/27) “NPR Ed” blog, the Politico  (4/27, Bade, Sherman) “Morning Education” blog, the Wall Street Journal  (4/27, Brody, Subscription Publication), Reuters  (4/27, Simpson), the Arkansas Democrat Gazette  (4/27), and US News & World Report  (4/27) also cover this story.

Higher Education

ED Unveils Student Loan Servicing Reform Initiatives.

The Washington Post  (4/28, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that ED has “unveiled a series of initiatives” aimed a fixing “the way the government collects payments on education loans, at a time when defaults are rising.” ED is working with other government agencies to “provide the 43 million Americans who carry $1.3 trillion in student debt more transparent information about the terms of their loans, account features and consumer protections.” The Post quotes Education Secretary John King saying, “We know costs are rising too fast and too many Americans are struggling to pay back their loans.” Meanwhile, the Administration “has given Americans more options for repaying their student debt so they can avoid default, expanding income-driven plans that require little to no money from people in dire straights.”

Study Examines State Cuts’ Impact On College Affordability.

The Higher Education Policy Institute, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Pennsylvania have collaborated on a study examining “how dwindling state investment in higher education and the subsequent rise in tuition has pushed college out of reach for low-income and middle-income families across the country.” Several papers are covering this study, mainly focused on how various states fared in the comparison of affordability. The Washington Post  (4/27, Douglas-Gabriel) reports, for example, that the study says that “Maryland provides some of the most economical college options in the country, but a series of policy changes dialing back financial support for the neediest students is endangering the ability of many families to afford higher education in the state.” The study ranks Maryland number six in affordability, but warns that “the state is losing ground.” Other media outlets covering this study include the Tennessean  (4/27), the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel  (4/28), the Detroit News  (4/27), and the Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News  (4/28).

Missouri’s Public Universities Halt Tuition Hikes In Exchange For $37M Funding Increase.

The AP  (4/27) reports that on Wednesday Gov. Jay Nixon (D-MO) signed a $1.3 billion spending plan “that will result in a tuition freeze at public universities.” University leaders agreed to the freeze in exchange for a $37 million boost to core funding, a four percent increase over last year. The AP notes this is the fourth year “since Nixon took office that universities agreed to halt tuition hikes.”

SPECIAL SECTION: Prism Magazine on Whistleblowing
ASEE’s Prism magazine features engineering educators using their expertise to challenge authority when needed.

Online Workshop
Applying Evidence-Based Teaching Practices in Computing Education will show how such practices can be effectively used when teaching graduate and undergraduate students. The workshop will be held June 1 and lasts for 3 hours. Registration is $50.

Research and Development

SpaceX Plans To Send “Red Dragon” Capsule To Mars In 2018.

The Washington Post  (4/27, Davenport) reports that on Wednesday, SpaceX announced on Twitter that it plans to land an unmanned “Red Dragon” spacecraft on Mars as early as 2018 in collaboration with NASA, “laying out an ambitious timeline for an incredibly difficult mission that only governments have dared try.” In a statement, NASA said it would provide “technical support,” but no financial support, for the Mars mission, and in return, SpaceX would provide “valuable entry, descent and landing data to NASA for our journey to Mars, while providing support to American industry.”

The Los Angeles Times  (4/27, Masunaga) explains that according to SpaceX, the mission aims to demonstrate a method of landing large-scale payloads on the Martian surface without parachutes or other aerodynamic decelerators. In a post on Twitter, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk “said the Dragon 2 spacecraft is designed to be able to land ‘anywhere in the solar system’ and that the Red Dragon Mars mission would be the first test flight.”

Meanwhile, USA Today  (4/27, Dean) notes that for manned missions to the Red Planet, SpaceX envisions a larger spacecraft than the Red Dragon “to give astronauts a comfortable ride on the roughly eight-month trip each way,” since the capsule only has the interior room of an SUV. Musk quipped on Twitter, “Wouldn’t be fun for longer journeys.”

Emerson Climate Tech Opens Innovation Center At Dayton University.

The Dayton (OH) Daily News  (4/27, Gnau) reports that on Wednesday Emerson Climate Technologies opened its $35 million Helix Innovation Center at the University of Dayton, which will be used to simulate weather conditions. Emerson Vice President Rajan Rajendran explained the building can control its indoor temperature and humidity, as well as the outdoor ambient temperature. Emerson group vice president for solutions and technology Bill Bosway indicated “the climate control industry needs help from academia and beyond to deal with…its ‘problems.’”

Researchers Develop Device That Binds Sperm In Vitro And In Vivo, Mouse Study Reveals.

The Scientist  (4/28, Azvolinsky) reports new research published in Science Translational Medicine shows that “researchers have created peptide-coated agarose beads that bind mouse sperm in vitro and in vivo, as well as human sperm in vitro.” Researchers at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and their colleagues “coated inert beads with either mouse or human peptides of one of these glycoproteins, called ZP2, which is required for prefertilization sperm-oocyte interaction.” Using male mice expressing fluorescently tagged sperm, “the researchers observed that the complexes could attract and bind sperm both inside the uterine horns of female mice and in a dish in the presence of intact oocytes.”

FPL, FIU Unveil Solar Research Project.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel  (4/27) reports that under a five-year research grant from Florida Power & Light, students and faculty at Florida International University’s Energy, Power & Sustainability program will analyze data from the solar panels built over a university parking lot to understand how South Florida’s tropical climate affects solar energy production, according to an FPL release. The 1.4-megawatt array is part of a project that continues a three-decade-long partnership between FPL and FIU.

Bordoff: Driverless Cars Could Increase Emissions.

Jason Bordoff at Columbia University writes for the Wall Street Journal  (4/27, Bordoff) on the disadvantages of self-driving cars from an environmental standpoint. Although automation could deliver around 15 percent in fuel savings according to research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the University of Maryland, Bordoff cautions that it would be premature to presume it will reduce oil use and carbon emissions. Automation may include increasing the total number of drivers, displacing public transportation, reducing fuel economy through increased speed limits, and market preference for larger vehicles, Bordoff writes.

Industry News

Samsung Reports Strong Earnings Boosted By Galaxy Sales.

Samsung Electronics reported its first quarter earnings Thursday morning, generating moderate coverage in the US that centered on the strong sales of the company’s Galaxy flagship smartphones in March. According to the AP  (4/27, Lee), Samsung reported earnings of 5.3 trillion won ($4.6 billion) – up 14% from 4.6 trillion won a year earlier and higher than the average analyst forecast of 4.7 trillion won – on sales of 49.8 trillion won ($43.4 billion), up 6% from the same period last year. The company’s operating profit rose 12% to 6.7 trillion won, largely matching the company’s earnings guidance in early April. Analysts say the early release of the company’s updated flagship Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge smartphones on March 11 contributed to the better-than-expected earnings, along with the company’s “pricing strategy” and the “absence of new products from competitors.” According to Counterpoint Technology Market Research estimates, Samsung sold 25 percent more Galaxy S7 series phones during the month of March – 10 million – than last year, which the AP reports caused Samsung’s mobile business to rake in record a “3.9 trillion won ($3.4 billion) in operating profit” or 42% more than the period last year. Reuters  (4/28, Lee) reports that Samsung expects its “solid performance” to continue in Q2, “led by steady earnings in the mobile and semiconductor businesses,” according to a company statement. Despite a 6% drop in operating profit for its chip division to 2.6 trillion won, Samsung expressed optimism about the division’s prospects in the next quarter. CNET News  (4/27, Musil), the Financial Times  (4/27, Wells, Subscription Publication), and ZDNet  (4/28, Mu-Hyun) offer similar coverage.

According to the Wall Street Journal  (4/27, Lee, Cheng, Subscription Publication), analysts are concerned that the company’s strong S7 series sales will fall off in Q2 as more rival phones become available and a stronger Korean won will unfavorably affect the company’s export earnings. Bloomberg News  (4/27, Lee) adds that investors are also worried about the smartphone market in general as companies “struggle to come up with a new must-have product that will entice consumers to replace their devices.” Global smartphone sales dropped by 3% in the January-March quarter this year for their “first-ever decline, according to Strategy Analytics.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Drone Traffic Control System Lauded.

Government Computer News  (4/27, Pomerleau) reports in continuing coverage about the FAA and NASA tests involving 22 drones across six different FAA test sites. NASA’s Safe Autonomous Systems Operations project manager Parimal Kopardekar said, “This test would not have been possible without the six FAA test sites – it was a collaborative effort to ensure a successful test.” Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center chief engineer Richard C. Kelley said, “The software performed wonderfully, providing much-needed data and pointing toward open questions for the research community to address as we work to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System.”

Senate Approves FAA Bill.

Engineering News-Record  (4/27, Ichniowski) reports as Congress works on the FAA re-authorization, “the Senate approved a measure that hikes airport construction grants a solid 12% but only for one year,” meanwhile, focus has shifted to the House, “where a six-year FAA measure has been in a holding pattern for weeks.” Legislation must be passed by Congress no later than July 15 in order to keep the FAA in operation. The article adds, “The Senate bill, approved on April 19 by an overwhelming 95-3 vote, barely qualifies as long term, extending only through Sept. 30, 2017.” Both the Senate and the House set measures related to drone regulation. The article reports Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) opposes a “provision that would expand Federal preemption of state and local drone laws.”

EPA Prepares Incentive Program Ahead Of Clean Power Plan Implementation.

The Hill  (4/27, Cama) reports that while the Clean Power Plan remains on hold, the Obama Administration is moving forward with a state incentive program that would give states credit for establishing certain renewable-energy or energy-efficiency projects before the climate regulation takes effect. The Clean Energy Incentive Program, “designed as a carrot to the Clean Power Plan’s stick,” is currently being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget before it can be formally proposed the public.

Senate Democrats Introduce Climate Change Bond Bill.

The Hill  (4/27, Henry) reports that Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dick Durbin on Wednesday “introduced a bill to create a new climate change adaptation fund to be paid for through new federal bonds.” The bond program would provide up to $200 million annually for a Commerce Department grant program to fund climate change adaptation work around the country. “The bill is unlikely to find much support” in the Republican controlled Senate. The Los Angeles Times  (4/27) reports that the bonds are modeled after the World War II-era U.S. War Bonds program and Boxer “said having a dedicated funding source for the large-scale projects would increase their chance of getting built.”

Maine Governor Vetoes Solar Bill.

The AP  (4/27) reports Maine Gov. Paul LePage “has vetoed a bill that sought to modernize Maine’s policies on solar power.” The legislation “would change how solar customers are paid for their surplus power. Utilities would pay rates set by regulators instead of paying retail price.” The governor “has been skeptical of the bill but said earlier this week that he was working with Democrats on a potential bid to save it.” LePage “released a veto message Wednesday that says the legislation would increase energy costs for Maine businesses and households that can’t afford solar panels.”

Two Measures To Restrict Pentagon Alternative Energy Programs Fail To Advance.

The Hill  (4/27, Kheel) reports that Republicans took aim at the Pentagon’s energy initiatives Wednesday, but failed to advance two amendments that sought to reduce the programs. The amendments would have blocked the Pentagon from using funds to comply with two executive orders on climate change and required the Defense secretary to justify spending on alternative energy facilities. Democrats using alternative energy helps on the battlefield by decreasing reliance on fossil fuels, “an argument the Pentagon also has employed.”

California Utilities Decry Federal Regulations’ Impact On Hydroelectric Power Potential.

McClatchy  (4/27, Doyle) reports “federal burdens dampen California’s hydroelectric power potential, PG&E and Turlock Irrigation District officials told lawmakers” on the House water, power, and oceans subcommittee Tuesday. “Summoned by House Republicans who hope to unleash more of what they called a ‘clean, renewable, and domestic energy resource,’ the two California utilities’ representatives described a regulatory thicket that can take many years and millions of dollars to navigate.” PG&E’s Debbie Powell said that “the processes are overly complex” and “needlessly expensive.” Powell told the lawmakers “that PG&E’s last 10 hydroelectric license renewals took between seven and 28 years and racked up associated costs from $2 million to over $20 million.” Rep. Jim Costa said, “Something’s got to be wrong with that part of the process.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Reopened California Elementary School To Have STEAM Focus.

The Los Angeles Times  (4/27, Woolsey) reports that when Lake View Elementary School in Huntington Beach, California reopens in the fall, the campus “will have switched to a STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — focus.” When in class, “students will sit in groups, rather than at desks in rows, to facilitate creativity, collaboration and critical thinking, said Principal Jamie Goodwyn.” She explained that the school “wanted to change the look of learning and make sure students are getting 21st-century learning,” adding, for instance, that rather than having students read about photosynthesis in textbooks, teachers would be able to take students outside to directly observe the process at work.

Petition Asks Congress To Spend $250 Million On Expanding Computer Science Programs, Building Teacher Capacity.

Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer writes in Take Part  (4/27, Dwyer) about a petition put forward by Seattle-based nonprofit and the Computer Science Education Coalition asking Congress to allocate $250 million in federal funding for “every student in every school to have an opportunity to learn computer science.” Supporters of computer science believe it is “key to maintaining the nation’s economic edge” and point out it “also leads to the highest-paying, fastest-growing jobs in the US economy.” Yet critics have “suggested that the nation doesn’t need every child to learn computer science” and claim there is a lack of trained educators to teach computer science. Therefore, advocates say the $250 million should be spent on building teaching capacity and not on hardware.

Career And Technical Education Making A Comeback In US High Schools.

The AP  (4/26, Leff) reports career and technical (CTE) education is “making a comeback in many of the nation’s high schools.” California, Colorado and Louisiana are among states looking to “career pathways” that merge technical training and academics “built around an industry theme as a way to get more young people to pursue some post-secondary education.” Congress adopted an education bill last year that includes CTE education in the definition of a well-rounded K-12 education, and lawmakers are expected to this year “strengthen the federal law that provides about $1.1 billion a year for job training in grades 7-14.” Education experts say the renewed focus on CTE education would be a viable alternative to “exposing all students to the same college prep curriculum.” Yet some education experts fear integrating “career exploration with academics” could lead to a “new form tracking” that encourages “academically struggling” students to enter “separate academic programs that have watered-down expectations and watered-down instruction.”

Op-Ed: California Schools Should Teach Math Using Computer Science.

Harry Cheng, Professor and Director of the UC Davis Center for Integrated Computing and STEM Education (C-STEM), writes in EdSource  (4/27, Cheng) California has reached a tipping point where it has the tools and opportunity to enable all public schools to integrate computer science into their match and science curriculums. Cheng believes “all K-12 schools should provide computer science educations for all students in each grade level,” and teaching match with computer programming “can give mathematical concepts context and relevance while still requiring the same amount of rigor as traditional mathematics instruction.” The integration of computer programming can “further students’ local and critical thinking skills.” Over 200 schools have adopted and used C-STEM curriculum in their classroom teaching, “and the results have shown promise in closing the match achievement gap for schools with a large percentage of student subgroups that have historically lagged behind.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

ED Conference Discusses How Music Can Be Integrated With STEM Subjects.
Public Citizen Writers Praise ED’s Push Against For-Profit Colleges’ Use Of Forced Arbitration.
University Of Florida Hosts Mind-Controlled Drone Competition.
Apple Reports First Revenue Drop Since 2003 As iPhone Sales Flag.
Tribe To Meet With Official Over Dakota Access Pipeline Concerns.
Businesses, Governors Call On Congress To Boost Funding For Computer Science.

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