What will it take to solve the perennial shortage of qualified science, technology, engineering, and mathematics teachers? A national nonprofit says it’s close to finding out.
The group 100Kin10 was formed in 2011 in response to former President Barack Obama’s call for adding 100,000 more STEM teachers to the nation’s classroom in 10 years. It created a network of what would grow to be more than 300 organizations, all of which made commitments to the effort and worked together to share solutions.
In November 2021, the group announced it had surpassed its goal by recruiting and training more than 108,000 STEM teachers. An independent evaluation conducted by Bellwether Education Partners confirmed the number and said 100Kin10 has “galvanized action that resulted in higher quality STEM experiences for teachers and students around the country.”
Now, 100Kin10 is setting a new goal—and rebranding. Now known as Beyond100K, the group aims to both prepare and retain 150,000 STEM teachers in schools with the greatest shortages. The recruitment efforts will increasingly be focused on Black, Latinx, and Native American teachers.
More than 130 organizations have signed on to the new goal, including the American Federation of Teachers, Teach For America, the Smithsonian Science Education Center, and the Center for Black Educator Development. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, among others, have contributed funding.
(Those three philanthropies also provide support to Education Week. Education Week maintains sole editorial control over its content.)
Education Week spoke to Beyond100K’s founder and executive director, Talia Milgrom-Elcott, about large-scale change, lessons learned, and what’s next. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Take me through the last 10 years and the first 100,000. What lessons did you learn about recruiting STEM teachers over the past decade?
A big, mobilizing goal that can’t be reached on its own, paired with individual commitments that people commit to out loud and feel accountable to, is a very potent combination to getting people to stick with things over time.
Second, in education, we have many, many, many best practices and What Works Clearinghouses and things like that, and we haven’t seen many examples of the spread of best practices.
What we found in the network though is if you don’t try to tell people what to do but instead create an environment in which they feel safe enough to share what is hard, what they’re struggling with, people will independently search out and seek out best practices. You need to be in a place where you can connect them as much as possible to peers who can be at ease.
One of the things that Bellwether found is that across the board, partners were accessing research-based, evidenced-backed, best-in-class practices more because of 100Kin10—not because we told them which ones to use, but because we elevated examples of success, because we connected people to each other.
Third, in any field, there are people working on every dimension of a problem—and complex problems that often have a hundred different dimensions. When we do that, we spread our efforts too thin, and we rarely get traction on any of them. We focus people on some of the highest-leverage places for addressing the STEM teacher shortage, .... and it allowed them to make more progress, have wins, build momentum, and start that cycle of dominos falling.
So much has changed since 2011, when your work started. That was before the Next Generation Science Standards, before the pandemic. How is starting this recruitment initiative now different than it was a decade ago?
I think there are a few places of real strength to draw on and then some real challenges. When we started this 10 years ago, no one thought this was going to happen. It felt very out of reach. ... Ten years in, having succeeded at the first goal, this is a completely different ballgame.
When we started last time, we had 28 organizations join. This time, there are 130. We have learned some things about how to build this network. ... We’re actually building some things from the beginning into the design that we didn’t know how to do at the beginning last time. We can start from a much stronger place.
Challenges: One, a 10-year decline in teacher preparation. Two, the pandemic and the potential that the Great Resignation is going to hit the school wall, which we’re seeing some evidence of. Third, a very tight labor market and high wages outside of education, especially for people with STEM skills, let alone a STEM degree.
Do you know how many of the 108,000 STEM teachers you recruited are still in the classroom?
No, we don’t. No one does. We’ve always had partners working on retention, but we’ve never had a way to measure it because the country doesn’t have a way to measure retention. ... If you’re a D.C. public school teacher and you go to teach in a charter [school], the system doesn’t necessarily know that you’re still teaching. If you go teach in Virginia or Maryland, the system does not know if you are still teaching. The system might think you have retired or left—it doesn’t actually have a way of tracking you.
If we can’t retain our teachers, we will not successfully address the shortage. [Our new goal is] 150,000 teachers retained. ... We put out a [request for proposal], and we’re at the tail end of it. We’re going to bring data expertise ... and our partners together and say, “OK, what are some ways to measure retention that can be of use to a state, a district, a region?”
We have one very crazy idea, which is particularly interesting to me. Teachers are mostly not on LinkedIn, but what if our teachers, when they graduate, get on LinkedIn? People tend to update their own profiles on LinkedIn when they move, and then you can just scrub that data to track [them]. There might be some actually very interesting, pretty organic tools available to us to do this and to get enough data that you could actually make some conclusions.
Your new goal is to recruit more diverse STEM teachers. Can you talk more about how you’ll approach that goal?
Right now, teachers are about 80 percent white, and public school students are at 50 percent kids of color. That’s a huge, huge gap, and it’s not working. Students of color do better with teachers of color, but actually so do white students. Knowing you can learn from and be inspired by teachers of all backgrounds, bringing those perspectives—it’s going to be essential for people’s success in this global economy.
Our partners who are preparing teachers are committing to that 10-year arc, which is kind of amazing given all the politics of this moment. We don’t know how they’re going to do it. They’re committing to figuring it out together. What’s awesome about it is how many universities from all the states—red, purple, and blue—are joining and making commitments.
This is not only for their students. It’s our pipeline. Their communities are becoming more diverse, so they’re going to have a more robust pipeline. They need to be tapping into that amazing talent.
[Another part of our goal] is supporting teachers to create classrooms of belonging for their students, especially students of color, and supporting schools to create schools of belonging for their teachers, especially their teachers of color.
At the end of last year, we [reached out] to young people, ages 13 to 29, and asked them to tell us stories about their experiences in STEM from when they were in pre-K-12. Six hundred people shared their stories with us, 82 percent people of color by design. And the biggest thing we heard was that young people need to feel that they belong if they’re going to persist and then succeed in STEM.
There are so many different policies aimed at recruiting more teachers of color. Are there any solutions you think are particularly promising for STEM teachers?
We don’t tell people the solutions, we help elevate the knowledge of the field and connect people to each other. What we are doing—starting in just a few weeks, actually—is a massive listening and mapping experience where we’re going to ask [teachers of color and other leaders of color] not so much, “What do you want?” We find that’s not actually as effective, but when you ask people, “Why has it been so hard to recruit teachers of color into STEM teaching?” people actually have really good and specific answers.
Then we go deeper and deeper—"Why is that?"—with hundreds of people.
What is the reasoning behind this being another 10-year goal rather than an open-ended mission for the organization?
I believe that we can solve our most pressing challenges and that most organizations like this ought not to exist in perpetuity. We should solve the STEM teacher shortage with equity and belonging and go on to the next thing.
We can see 10 years in the future. We can dream about 10 years in the future. We can take actions toward the future. Further than that, it’s too hard and too far away to actually mobilize [someone] to take action today. Any closer than that and it’s not a scale that’s big enough for the problem. It doesn’t give enough time to learn and to build, to actually get to a problem worth solving. [Ten years] is the sweet spot.
Assuming you can crack the retention problem as well, would 150,000 additional STEM teachers solve the STEM teacher shortage?
No, but if we did these two things, we would cut by third the STEM teacher shortage. And if we did that in 10 years—which feels doable, even if it’s hard—and we do that with representation and equity at the core, that is the roadmap for ending it in the following decade.
The problems you face are not laws of nature. They’re not gravity. You don’t have to accept that a STEM teacher shortage exists, and it mostly affects kids of color and poor kids. ... Those are not laws, they are built reality. And they can be unbuilt.