While there is no silver bullet to the problems afflicting STEM education in the U.S., a number of initiatives are underway to address systemic shortcomings. Perhaps the boldest is the proposed introduction of 100,000 newly trained STEM teachers over the next decade.
In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama called for a new effort to prepare 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade. Citing a shortage of qualified teachers in STEM fields, Obama’s call mirrored a key conclusion by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in 2010 that great STEM teachers need to possess both deep content knowledge and strong teaching skills.
Efforts currently underway by 100Kin10 and the National Math & Science Initiative (NMSI) are a big part of achieving Obama’s goal, as is Utah’s new STEM Action Center, which is preparing qualified STEM teachers at the state level.
100Kin10: A Networked Approach to Producing 100,000 STEM Teachers By 2021
More than 150 organizations have come together in a coalition called 100Kin10 with a threefold goal: increase the supply of STEM teachers; retain the best STEM teachers; and build a STEM education movement. The program is coordinated by Maya Lundhagen and Talia Milgrom-Elcott on behalf of Carnegie Corporation of New York and Opportunity Equation, two of the movement’s founding organizations.
The group believes that the key to training and retaining quality STEM teachers is a multi-sector collaboration of public and private organizations in a wide range of fields. Lundhagen, project director for Opportunity Equation at the Institute for Advanced Study, points to the American Museum of Natural History as an example of an organization applying its strengths in a creative way.
“This 100Kin10 partner has committed to: 1) training 130 science teachers to place in high need schools; and 2) providing professional development opportunities for 2,000 educators per year, while developing models for effective partnerships between districts, teacher preparation programs, and cultural institutions to retain exemplary science teachers in middle school,” Lundhagen told IMT Career Journal.
“The number 130 does not, at first blush, appear to be significant in the face of a goal of 100,000,” she said. “But the commitment’s impact goes far beyond the number of teachers prepared. Those 130 teachers will be the first to receive a Masters of Arts in Teaching from a museum. That’s a powerful, replicable model for STEM-rich institutions nationwide.”
The group is developing a way to track progress toward 100Kin10’s goal of 100,000 STEM teachers trained by 2021. Partners will participate in an annual survey that will ask questions about their work in each stage of a teacher’s career, from recruitment through advancement.
“The purpose is to gather deep and comparable information across organizations about strategy, context, practices, and results to enable significant learning about what is and isn’t working and to spur improvement for partners and the field,” Lundhagen said.
NMSI: Transforming STEM Education Through Comprehensive Teacher Training
In addition to 100Kin10, the National Math & Science Initiative (NMSI) is making strides in helping to achieve Obama’s goal of training STEM teachers.
NMSI’s UTeach program helps math and science majors earn a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field simultaneously with a teaching certificate within a standard four-year period. The program, which is active at 35 universities across the country, has more than 6,000 potential math and science teachers enrolled.
NMSI estimates that graduates from the first 13 UTeach university sites alone will have taught more than 4 million students by 2020. Some 88 percent of UTeach graduates go on to teach in math and science classrooms, and five years later, 80 percent are still teaching. The program is on track to train 10,000 new math and science teachers by 2020.
“This is the work that has to be done as we go school by school, teacher by teacher, and student by student,” said Dave Saba, COO of the NMSI. “At the university level, the UTeach Institute team works closely with all our schools in the program to ensure fidelity to the program and success in recruiting the best in math and science to become teachers. At the K-12 level, our team is out in schools year-round working with administrators, teachers, and students to remove the barriers to student success.”
This year, NMSI trainers helped more than 9,000 teachers introduce more rigorous hands-on learning in the classroom. Schools that adopted these lessons have seen Advanced Placement passing soar from 33 percent to 85 percent and high school graduation jump from 73 percent to 93 percent in just three years, Saba told IMT Career Journal.
The challenge is helping teachers master the content and the strategies required to make this approach a success, Saba said.
“To create that kind of change, it takes teacher supports — not the ‘drive-by’ training that is done in most districts, but training done over three years with online support and additional resources,” he said. “That is the only way to achieve lasting change in the classroom.”
Utah STEM Action Center: Producing the State’s STEM Workforce of the Future
Utah’s STEM Action Center was created this past spring to drive research and implementation of STEM education best practices across the state.
As in other states with STEM centers, Utah officials hope their Action Center will elevate the performance of students in STEM-related subjects, encourage more students to enter STEM-related careers, and increase the quantity and quality of STEM educators and professionals.
The center will first work to identify the gaps in student performance, and then work with teachers and other stakeholders to close those gaps.
“We are currently conducting a pilot of 11 math instructional technologies in 70 middle and high schools across the state,” Meredith Mannebach, program manager for Utah’s Action Center, told IMT Career Journal. “We have contracted with Utah State University to do the analytics of the pilot. We will be measuring student performance, student interest in math, and teacher satisfaction with the products.”
The pilot program has two different components: providing mathematics instructional technology to students in grades 6-8; and supporting mathematics instruction for secondary students to prepare them for college math courses.
Last month, the program rolled out a teacher training session to introduce new educational technologies. In conjunction with the Salt Lake Center for Science Education, the Action Center hosted 120 teachers from 55 schools. The teachers received training in 11 technologies – mostly software programs designed to help students learn at their own pace. The technologies have been chosen for STEM implementation in the upcoming school year.
“We will continue to be the hub of best practices in STEM education and innovation to support education in Utah,” Mannebach said.
Industry Collaboration Required
Producing a new generation of qualified STEM teachers cannot be achieved without a collaboration between academic institutions and industry, proponents say.
“It is key to successful STEM education to bring education and industry together,” Mannebach said. “Education is preparing the next-generation workforce. But we need input from industry to know what they need in that workforce. They also are key to keeping teachers informed about all the new innovations in industry.”
100Kin10 has embraced that approach, forging more than 150 partnerships with participants ranging from the National Academy of Sciences, NASA, and Google, to National Geographic, the Girl Scouts, and Sesame Street.
Similarly, NMSI has worked with Boeing, Northrup-Grumman, the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity, and others to bring its Comprehensive AP Program to schools that serve military families. Staff from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Mississippi visited NMSI schools this summer to train math and science teachers.
Such initiatives as 100Kin10, NMSI and Utah’s STEM Action Center are responding to President Obama’s call for a new emphasis on STEM education, which he reiterated last year during the Third Annual White House Science Fair. “We need to make this a priority to train an army of new teachers is these subject areas, and to make sure that all of us as a country are lifting up these subjects for the respect that they deserve,” the president said.
To read more about why the shortage of qualified STEM teachers is an issue that deserves more attention, see Part 1 of this two-part series.