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STEM Education to Get Boost From Race to Top Winners

The winning states in the federal Race to the Top competition announced yesterday have wide-ranging agendas to improve schooling, and there's lots to examine in their applications, but I wanted to quickly highlight what looks to be a strong emphasis on STEM education.

(For an excellent overview and analysis of the results, check out this EdWeek story.)

Virtually every winning state application (plus the District of Columbia) included substantive plans to advance their work in improving education in the STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—fields.

For example:

• North Carolina will use Race to the Top funding to support the development of a small set of "exemplary high schools, each focused on a STEM theme, such as biotechnology or aerospace, tied to the economic development of the region." These will serve as "anchor schools" in networks of STEM-themed schools, providing exemplary curriculum, serving as residency sites for participants in regional leadership academies, and serving as test beds for innovative practices in STEM education.

• Maryland will use some of its award money to help develop elementary STEM standards and a corresponding elementary STEM teaching certificate. The state department of education will also establish a partnership with the Maryland Business Roundtable to support educator effectiveness and student engagement in delivering STEM instruction. The idea is to link up teachers, principals, and students with industry experts and the resources of their workplaces.

• Ohio, considered one of the leaders in STEM education, aims to expand its work, including by enhancing the capacity of STEM schools to offer support services to low-achieving schools, strengthening and spreading its STEM-oriented early-college high schools, and accelerating the capacity of existing STEM schools to serve as field sites for professional development field sites.

• Florida will hire 20 STEM coordinators who will be "strategically assigned" to persistently low-performing schools and will work with school-site math and science coaches assigned by districts. The state will create a competitive program for rural district consortia to build and implement model high school STEM programs for gifted and talented students. Also, a state advisory group will work to produce a Florida STEM plan by this December that will include strategies to increase enrollment in STEM curricula, increase student-achievement goals in math and science, and boost the percentage of Floridians who are STEM "literate."

• Rhode Island will recruit organizations to support the creation of STEM focused, high-performing charter or in-district schools. Also, it will leverage money from the Race to the Top to help struggling schools through the use of environmental-science programs that involve partnerships with community groups and informal education providers. It will also identify and train "STEM distinguished educators" to help support turnaround teams for low-performing schools and develop master teachers.

To be sure, STEM education has become a high priority in many states. In addition, the issue was identified as a "competitive preference priority" by the U.S. Department of Education in evaluating state applications for the Race to the Top. Despite the fancy title, that priority delivered a state only 15 points, out of a possible 500. In any case, as my quick (and not exhaustive) sampling indicates, the winning state applications include some very concrete plans to boost STEM education.

But don't just take my word for it. Check out the applications for yourself.

Also, here's my quick analysis of the two winners from the first round of the Race to the Top competition in March—Tennessee and Delaware—and their plans for STEM education.

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