When President Obama promised 100,000 new science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers over the next 10 years during his State of the Union address in January, it may have seemed like an unrealistic goal. However, officials at several nonprofits, businesses, and universities saw it as a call to action.
Dozens of organizations, led by the nonprofit Carnegie Corporation of New York, have banded together to form 100kin10, a coalition that hopes to increase the number of qualified teachers, retain top performing teachers, and build a movement to improve STEM education in the U.S., which has fallen to the middle of the pack globally.
"We thought if we don't take action to respond to that call, then no one will," says Talia Milgrom-Elcott, program officer for urban education at the Carnegie Corporation. "In a few years we'd find ourselves in the same situation we're in now."
100kin10 will focus on three challenges of improving STEM education: increasing the supply of qualified teachers, keeping teachers in the classroom with incentive programs for top performers, and getting the public to realize that STEM education is an important issue.
[Learn about underqualified STEM teachers.]
The coalition will provide money and support to organizations that already promote STEM teacher training, like the National Math and Science Initiative, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and Teach for America. By putting them into an open-source environment, the organizations can share ideas and information.
Milgrom-Elcott says it's an approach that worked for cystic fibrosis (CF) research and treatment practices. During the mid 1990s, CF patients at different clinics had wildly different life expectancies and lung capacities. As doctors began to share the best practices for treating patients, the life expectancy gap narrowed, and CF survival rates improved. 100kin10 hopes to mimic this transparency and openness.
"Why should everyone be running their own experiments?" she asks. "We're designing a high level, continuous review of the projects inside this effort to see what's working."
Chitra Krishnan, director of knowledge and learning at Ashoka, a network of "social entrepreneurs" who attempt to solve some of the world's problems through business, says the openness of the project should improve STEM education nationwide.
[Learn about corporations that are promoting STEM education.]
Changemakers, an affiliate of Ashoka, is running a STEM education contest in conjunction with 100kin10. Companies such as Google and ExxonMobil are sponsoring the contest, which runs through early August. The parameters are purposefully broad—entries are public, and anyone who has an idea of how to innovate STEM learning methods or improve teaching can enter.
"We've connected with people who learn from each other; we're creating a community of practice," she says. "There are people who have done things differently, successfully." The biggest challenge, she says, is finding a way to scale up the ideas of successful teachers. "What is the barrier that doesn't allow [scaling] to happen? What are the solutions that work?"
Carnegie's Milgrom-Elcott says partners in the project are ready to start helping now. Carnegie is not creating a new infrastructure or trying to train teachers on its own—it's merely connecting organizations that are already working on the problem. "We're mobilizing these organizations," she says. "They're ramping up. Some of them can hit the ground running."
She says many more organizations have shown interest in joining 100kin10, and the movement, which currently has 28 partners, hopes to grow to about 100 by the end of the summer. Milgrom-Elcott says interested organizations will have to meet criteria designed by the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute before they are allowed to join.
"We want to ensure there's a community of learning," she says. "There will be an initial bar for entry."