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STEM Programs at the Department of Education: Supporting Teachers and Students

This week, the President recognized some of the best and brightest science and engineering students from across the country during the 2015 White House Science Fair. At the Department of Education (the Department), we share the President’s commitment to supporting science education that is student-centered and grounded in real-world settings. We have made great strides in improving and broadening science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for all students by including STEM priorities in dozens of competitive grant programs in recent years. Most recently, the Department announced that the 2015 Ready-to-Learn Television grant competition will, for the first time, include a priority to support the development of television and digital media focused on science.

STEM has also been included as an area of focus in the Race to the Top-District program, which is focused on providing students with a personalized educational experience — meaning where the pace of learning and the instructional approach are tailored to the needs of individual learners. Highlights include: Galt Joint Union Elementary School District in California, which has launched afterschool STEM clubs to provide students the opportunity to explore robotics; and in Springdale Public Schools in Arkansas, students are using spatial technology to map bus routes and have created an interactive online system for the local community.

In addition to targeting resources to support the development and implementation of STEM programs, we have also begun to make steady progress towards the President’s goal to recruit and prepare 100,000 additional STEM teachers by 2020. At last year’s White House Science Fair we announced the inclusion of a STEM priority in the Teacher Quality Partnerships grant competition. This past fall we announced grant awards that support 24 new partnerships between universities and high-need school districts to recruit, train and support more than 11,000 new teachers over the next five years — many in STEM fields. A number of other grant programs focus on providing STEM teachers with the training and resources necessary to teach to rigorous standards in these fields, including: the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program, the Teacher Incentive Fund, the Math and Science Partnerships program and Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow.

Ensuring equity within the STEM fields is essential to our overall efforts to transform educational opportunity for our most underserved students in urban and rural communities. To commemorate this year’s 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the launch of the 25th Anniversary Year of Action: Fulfilling America’s Future. Part of this effort focuses on increasing educational outcomes and opportunities for Hispanic students in STEM. One effort already underway is the Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) – STEM program which supports HSIs in increasing the number of Hispanic students attaining degrees in STEM to prepare them for success in the 21st century STEM economy.

Because we know that learning happens inside and outside of formal school settings, ED’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program is collaborating with NASA, the National Park Service, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services to bring high-quality STEM content and experiences to students from low – income, high-need schools. We are particularly pleased about these programs’ commitment to Native American students, which will provide about 350 students at 11 sites (across 6 states) out-of-school STEM courses on environmental monitoring and citizen science.

To support more students with opportunities to engage in “hands-on” activities to support STEM learning, we will be conducting a Makeover Challenge. This effort will seek innovative solutions to update Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs that meet the needs of employers in the advanced manufacturing industry. Currently in the planning process, ED hopes to launch a future competition that will prototype state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities by providing technical assistance, professional development, equipment, hardware, and technology to support CTE manufacturing programs.

Advanced manufacturing is not the only place where we are looking into the future. ED’s STEM team recently launched a series of workshops with STEM experts and visionaries — including teachers, researchers, and education experts — to develop a 10-year strategic vision for STEM education and innovation. This vision will inform future policy and research (both public and private). It will also guide us as we work to ensure all children have the opportunity to develop the skills that will ignite a life-long interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Stay tuned for more information on the future of our work and to learn more about other innovative STEM programs currently underway at the Department.

Russell Shilling is the executive director of STEM in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.