December 6, 2011

Steps for Stemming the STEM Education Crisis

It’s not really news: multi-sector outreach and partnerships play a critical role in achieving social goals.  It is news, in our opinion, how these tools are being applied to the country’s growing need for high quality STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education.STEM

As many of you have heard, the U.S. is doing a lousy job at teaching our kids STEM.  Compared with other developed countries, our K-12 students appear to be falling consistently and significantly behind [1].  Furthermore, once ill-prepared and in college, fewer are choosing to pursue the STEM-related degrees so critical to the global market [2].

Noral has written about the importance of community partners and community outreach for social change.  So we are pleased to have done work for TimeWarner’s exemplary STEM program, Connect a Million Minds, and more recently to learn about the 100Kin10 “movement.”  The latter, in response to President Obama’s State of the Union “call to action” — prepare 100,000 new science, education, math and technology teachers in the next 10 years — is a collaborative brain child of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Opportunity Equation, and NewSchools Venture Fund (a trinity of well-known experts in education).  They have turned their attention to “multi-organizational, multi-sector collaboration.”  In other words, they are mobilizing for outreach and partnerships.

So far, the 100kin10 campaigns’ strategic outreach efforts have solidified more than 80 ‘best-in-class’ partners, unified to transform how the U.S. approaches STEM education. We believe this campaign using partners may actually meet Obama’s call to action because of the following steps.  It:

  • Provides a “hook.Believe it or not, there is a lot of competition out there for cause-related projects and collaborative. Understanding this reality, 100Kin10 provides a variety of incentives for those organizations who participate such as:
    • access to other well-known organizations and funding opportunities;
      encouragement for creative, innovative approaches; not attempting to enforce a “one size fits all” response to the problem among all partners irrespective of their differing capabilities, communities and opportunities;
    • public relations support, visibility in the press and a variety of marketing materials.
  • Facilitates community.  Once part of the 100Kin10 effort, organizations are treated as an important part of an exclusive community.  Partners are encouraged to provide continuous feedback and play a leadership role in the campaign.  100kin10 provides ample opportunity to support relationships and allow partners to collaborate with one another.
  • Offers clear and measurable direction.  The leadership of 100Kin10 worked hard to develop a strategic plan to include goals and measurable objectives.  Partner organizations understand their mission and have a clear ‘roadmap’ to follow (i.e., their role in the campaign; expectations of being part of 100Kin10). Once they agree to participate, partners sign a commitment based on their agreed-to plan.
  • Embraces evaluation.  The 100Kin10 campaign is clearly committed to using evaluation to continually improve efforts and ultimately measure long-term outcomes.  The University of Chicago Urban Education Institute, who also vets organizations prior to partnership, is designing a rigorous evaluation. It will not only gauge whether or not 100Kin10 actually recruits and trains 100,000 new teachers, it will track the process of the movement as it works toward its goal.

Thankfully, there will also now be a national evaluation of the impact of all STEM programs collectively.  The National Assessment Governing Board, the people behind The Nation’s Report Card, are launching a Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment in 2014 that will measure U.S. student achievement in these new areas.

Social change is never easy.  But steps to encourage a breadth of organizations to engage in communities can magnify the opportunities for success.  They can help stem the STEM crisis.

1. National Science Board. (2010).  Science and Engineering Indicators: 2010. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.  Click here to access.

2.   Ibid, chapter 2.

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