Building a STEM Nation: Transforming STEM Education from the Ground-Up with Grants
Friday, October 15, 2010
Both reports emphasized the need for better recruitment strategies, teacher preparation and training, consistent standards, and access to technology. Highlighting how " the United States is faced with a clear and profound choice between action and complacency," the NSB argues for significant steps to invest in STEM education, similar to the U.S. response to Sputnik forty years ago.
None of this is exactly ground-breaking news to the educators, leaders, business managers, and other stakeholders who have long-noted America's future workforce is flirting dangerously with obtaining unmarketable skill sets for the 21st century economy. However, the revitalized impetus to act at the federal level is already providing new opportunities at the grassroots level for action.
Grant programs such as Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST), Transforming STEM Learning (TSL), and Discovery Research K-12 are key sources to fostering new STEM learning initiatives. These grant programs, administered under the National Science Foundation (NSF), seek to promote new research and demonstration on effective strategies to recruit students (particularly from underrepresented populations), educate them in innovative ways, and facilitate their successful progression to higher education and career pathways. These grants also prioritize collaboration between K-12 schools and institutions of higher education. Deadlines for all three are in early 2011.
Schools can also initiate or strengthen their STEM programs through grant programs less specific to the field. For example, the Smaller Learning Communities grant allows school districts to create separate groups of students in theme-focused academies. This grant would allow a school to carve out a separate school-within-a-school focused on a STEM curriculum. Similarly, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, intended to expand learning time for students, has been awarded to STEM academies that give students another outlet for education and growth.
Most recently, the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation programs also featured a heavy emphasis on STEM learning (see GO Know September Issue, Special Report: Education Innovation). With the return of both programs possible in Fiscal Year 2011, grantseekers should gear up now for the lengthy application process common to both programs.
With Washington consumed by talk of deficits, the economy, and taxes, it's up to those working in or with local school districts to seize the initiative to advance STEM learning - even on a small scale. Grant funding, whether explicitly targeted towards STEM or more broadly focused on education, can facilitate these crucial building blocks to the future of students and the nation.