Successful education reform, particularly in STEM disciplines, (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), has been a major concern both for California and the nation in general. The gap between education policy and practice can, however, at times be significant. For educator Peg Cagle, a former member of the California Teacher Advisory Council (Cal TAC), this is a gap that needs to be addressed at every policy level.
“The benefits of a strong STEM education system go well beyond the classroom,” said Cagle, who is currently serving as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow in the office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). “It’s really a progenitor of innovation. STEM education is the ultimate economic engine.” (In 2011, CCST in fact identified education as one of three key areas for the state to focus on in its assessment of California’s innovation ecosystem.)
Cagle, who served as a mathematics teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 17 years, learned early that working towards a stronger mathematics program required action beyond the boundaries of the school.
“I saw how much influence various levels of the system exerted on the classroom,” said Cagle. “I felt that, if I wasn’t working for my students outside the classroom, I wasn’t doing all I could.”
Cagle, a National Board certified teacher who has recently been elected to the Board of Directors for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, has been recognized both locally and nationally, with honors ranging from LAUSD Teacher of the Year to Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching – the nation’s highest recognition for math teachers. She served for three years on Cal TAC, an organization of master teachers in California sponsored by CCST, before moving to D.C.
“Bringing the voice and perspective of teachers into policy discussions is vital,” she noted. “The realities of the classroom can be very far from the rooms where policy is crafted. Especially in times when budgets are challenging, we’ve got to keep repeating the importance of K-12 STEM education, and stay focused and on target when reforms are moving in effective directions.”
Cagle feels that the adoption of common core math standards in California is one such positive step, and may contribute positively to STEM education overall.
“If we say that making cogent arguments is just as important as learning to compute with fractions, for example, we can help force a shift in the landscape, so to speak. It marks a move towards developing thinking in qualitative terms, instead of just quantitative terms. That is a move which could improve our approach to all STEM disciplines.”
She will remain in D.C. through late in 2012, during which time she hopes to build on opportunities for greater collaboration between the Einstein Fellows program and organizations such as the National Teacher Advisory Council, the organization which inspired California’s version.
“California is very fortunate to have a resource such as Cal TAC available as part of its education policy discussions,” said Cagle. “Cal TAC still has unfulfilled potential in terms of its role. But just the fact that teachers are being listened to is huge. I am so proud of the fact that CCST has taken it upon themselves to support an organization like Cal TAC.”
“STEM education is our nation’s best insurance for the future,” she said. “I am thankful to have the chance to bring classroom experience into discussions on our educational future.”