STEM Education Is Facing Over 100 Challenges. Can $28 Million Solve Them?

By Madeline Will — July 13, 2017 4 min read
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Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education has well over 99 problems—but, for now at least, a lack of funding isn’t one.

100Kin10, the national nonprofit seeking to recruit, prepare, and support 100,000 STEM teachers by 2021, has mapped out over 100 “grand challenges” facing STEM education. And today, the organization announced that Google, Chevron, and other funders have committed over $28 million to help.

The 100Kin10 coalition includes private foundations, states, federal agencies, corporations, school districts, and other nonprofit organizations. As in past rounds of funding, partners pledge to support one or more of the vetted organizations that are working to solve challenges identified by 100Kin10.

What are those challenges? The group clusters them into seven main themes.

  1. Elementary STEM. Many elementary teachers have not been well-prepared or supported to teach STEM subjects. There are few elementary teacher prep programs with a STEM focus, and many elementary teachers feel anxious about teaching STEM subjects, partially because there are not many instructional resources specifically for them.
  2. Instructional Materials. Teachers often don’t have sufficient access or funding to quality STEM curriculum, especially in engineering and technology. They also rarely have opportunities to collaborate with STEM experts in the classroom or integrate concepts within computer science and engineering into instruction.
  3. Prestige. Teaching is not held in high prestige in society, especially when compared to other STEM careers. STEM college majors rarely have an incentive—financially or societally—to pursue teaching.
  4. Professional Growth. Teachers often don’t receive high-quality professional development in STEM subjects, don’t have collaboration time with their peers available, and don’t have a say over the design of their PD.
  5. Teacher Leadership. Many STEM teachers lack the professional autonomy to experiment with new STEM teaching strategies. Also, few states and districts offer career ladders for STEM teachers.
  6. Preparation. Teachers do not always receive training to engage students from different backgrounds in STEM learning experiences. Many prospective STEM teachers don’t get to experience active instructional strategies modeled in their preservice programs.
  7. Value of S, T, and E. Schools prioritize teaching reading and math. Science, technology (computer science), and engineering are often not appreciated by school leaders in terms of funding, instructional resources, training, accountability, and electives. Families are also not as aware of how to support their children’s learning.

Talia Milgrom-Elcott, the nonprofit’s executive director and co-founder, said the group has worked with teachers, principals, and stakeholders in teacher preparation programs to identify the challenges plaguing STEM education and to narrow them down to just over 100. The goal, she said, was to “get as close to the bedrock as they could.”

Meanwhile, the network is on track to meet its original goal of adding 100,000 new STEM teachers by 2021.

But: “If we just focused on getting to this 100,000, we would find that we hadn’t solved the underlying challenges,” Milgrim-Elcott said. “As a result, we’d have to start that work all over again in 2021.”

Instead, the goal is to make a lasting difference in the system, so that “people want to teach science and engineering and math to kids,” she added. “If we did that, you won’t need something like 100Kin10.”

Milgrim-Elcott said the next step is to identify real measures that partners can use to see if they’re making progress on their committed work—and every year, take stock of the progress.

In an interview with Education Week Teacher in April, Blair Blackwell, the manager of education and corporate programs at Chevron, said the corporation has a vested interest in students learning STEM subjects, particularly engineering. It supports organizations like Project Lead the Way, which develops STEM curricula for schools, and teacher-training programs, like those at the California State University system.

“As we look at our investments around STEM education, we recognize you have to support the organizations that are solving the problem and supporting teachers today—but then to really move the needle, change the game, you also have to be looking at some of the overarching, systemic issues,” she said.

That’s why being a part of 100Kin10’s network aligns with Chevron’s mission, Blackwell said.

“We want to increase that prestige around being a STEM teacher, because at the end of the day, everything comes down to teachers as we look at what are going to be the innovations that help students and ourselves to tackle big challenges moving forward,” she said.

More on 100Kin10’s Work:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.