Funding STEM Education Programs
In a letter written by Greg Babe, President and CEO of Bayer Corporation, he reports that their survey of Fortune 1000 and emerging high-tech company CEO’s shows that they “get it”. In so many words, these organizations realize that diversity, which encompasses ethnic-minorities and females, is essential to the sustainability and competitiveness of STEM industries. Greg’s conclusion fits right in line with a position I have often stated, that it is imperative for private industry to partner with public programs that demonstrate a sustainable program model, have historical data showing program outcomes over time, and are scalable in a way that program impact can grow commensurate with the financial investment.
Past experience has shown us that effective private-public collaborations can work in a synchronistic fashion towards a common goal. Corporations willing to invest both capital and sweat equity in the non-profits they support are better able to achieve intended outcomes. And in the case of developing a STEM workforce, related industries should be investing for the long haul in public K-12 STEM programs. Fortune 1000 companies are just that because their business model supports growth and meets the market’s demands; they make smart investments in the people and resources that help the organization operate on all cylinders.
Around 2006, we began to witness an emerging market of public programs focused on STEM education programming, and in 2009 President Obama’s State of the Union Address further cemented STEM education as a national priority. Since then, organizations with no prior experience in STEM education have developed STEM programs to fit this trend, while still working to fulfill their core mission. This led to an explosion of programs creating STEM initiatives for the sole purpose of securing any available funding, without any real commitment or capacity to sustain these initiatives. Some of this change was as a result of an internal push to ‘move with the cheese’, and for others it was the external push by corporations who shifted their education investment dollars towards STEM programming.
Many including myself, are increasingly concerned about the continual problems we face in education, despite billions of dollars being spent towards solutions seeking a problem to solve at the federal, state, and local level. People are rightfully beginning to ask, “why do we continue to have the same problems in education, particularly issues of reducing the achievement gap among ethnic-minority and females in STEM, despite all the money being spent”?
The answer in my opinion is simple: the longer we continue to fund initiatives with no track record of success, the further the deepening of the education crisis becomes. It is time we focus on proven solutions, and developing them to a point where they are sustainable and brought to scale. These solutions are found in programs that are successful at engaging both teachers and students in STEM collaboratively, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that these successful models are heavily championed, rather than being glossed over for the next NEW thing.