Education Funding

Funders Set New Round of Support for STEM Teachers

November 02, 2012 4 min read
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A national network is launching a second “innovation fund” with a goal of raising $20 million to support what it calls entrepreneurial approaches to bringing more high-quality teachers into the STEM disciplines.

The new fund got started with $5 million in initial commitments, announced last month, from three philanthropies: the Amgen Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Samueli Foundation.

This is the second such fund set up by “100Kin10,” a broad-based partnership formed in response to President Barack Obama’s call in his 2011 State of the Union Address for recruiting 100,000 new science, technology, engineering, and mathematics teachers over a decade. The coalition includes private foundations, states, federal agencies, corporations, universities, school districts, museums, and other nonprofit organizations.

At the same time, the network is seeking to expand its membership, though it’s something of an exclusive club, since joining involves going through an application and vetting process run by a team at the University of Chicago.

Early this month, 100Kin10 will close its latest round of membership applications, with decisions expected by January.

“We’re looking for boldness of commitment and organizational capacity to achieve it,” said Talia Milgrom-Elcott, a program officer at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which helped spearhead 100Kin10 and is providing operational support.

“What we always wanted was a mix of usual suspects and unusual suspects, so bringing a mix of people to bear.”

James W. Fraser, a senior adviser to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, based in New York City, which is part of the network, said that while the opportunity to get grants from participating philanthropies is an important attraction of 100Kin10, that’s by no means the only draw. (Members of 100Kin10 include both organizations that award grants and those that receive them.)

“From my perspective, the funding provided is less significant than the institutional energy and focus, and creating a coalition out of people who were otherwise all working to the same ends but not necessarily aware of what each other was doing,” he said.

Mr. Fraser, whose organization runs a fellowship program for aspiring STEM teachers, said various meetings large and small organized through 100Kin10 provide an opportunity to “come together and argue and exchange ideas and think things through.”

Targeted Investments

In February, the network closed its first innovation fund, with a total of $24 million in commitments from a number of foundations, including Carnegie, which pledged $5.4 million; the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation; and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. The money is not pooled. Instead, individual philanthropies make financial commitments and then identify proposals from 100Kin10 members that they wish to fund.

Among projects supported by the first fund are the replication of the UTeach model of preparing STEM teachers, first developed at the University of Texas at Austin, to two new Texas locations, as well as in Arkansas; the launch by Teach For America of a STEM-focused recruitment campaign for new corps members; and production of a “STEM Hub” by Sesame Workshop—the nonprofit group behind “Sesame Street” and other educational programs—to house educational content for children ages 3 to 5.

The second fund aims to “invest in innovations to improve the recruitment, training, hiring, development, and retention of 100,000 excellent STEM teachers, as well as the systems to support these goals,” according to a 100Kin10 press release.

To become a partner and be eligible for funding, an organization must be nominated by an existing partner, then submit an application that is “rigorously vetted” by the Urban Education Institute and the Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education, both at the University of Chicago. Key criteria include whether the organization is making what the network calls “smart and bold commitments,” has sufficient capacity to deliver on them, and complements existing partners. (The application process does not apply to foundations, corporations, or individuals planning to pledge financial support to 100Kin10.)

Ms. Milgrom-Elcott of Carnegie estimates that about 30 percent of applicants so far have been asked to join.

‘Audacious Goals’

Current members span the nation and bring a range of expertise and perspectives. They include the Algebra Project in Cambridge, Mass.; High Tech High, a charter school network based in San Diego; the American Museum of Natural History in New York City; and the North Carolina New Schools Project.

“We like to characterize the current partners as diverse and diffuse, all different kinds of organizations and all scattered about, with the potential to make stronger connections and [promote] lots of learning,” said Michael C. Lach, the director of STEM policy and strategic initiatives at the Urban Education Institute.

Mr. Lach, previously a special assistant for STEM education at the U.S. Department of Education, said he sees great promise in the enterprise, but cautions that the challenge it has taken on is a big one.

“You have a big, hairy, audacious goal like 100,000 excellent STEM teachers in 10 years, which will require people to do things differently,” he said.

Wynn Rosser, the president and chief executive officer of the Greater Texas Foundation, based in Bryan, said he was drawn to several dimensions of 100Kin10, including the “rigorous vetting process” and the diverse membership.

The foundation pledged $500,000 for the first innovation fund to support the Texas expansion of UTeach.

Mr. Rosser also highlighted the emphasis on getting philanthropies to join forces.

“Foundations talk a lot about collaboration,” he said. “It’s great to see foundations come together and actually do that.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 07, 2012 edition of Education Week as Funders Set New Round of Support for STEM Teaching

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