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Obama Budget Features New Plans for STEM, High Schools

The budget request President Obama announced this week calls for several new STEM education programs, as well as a high school "redesign" competition that would ramp up student opportunities to get college credit and career-related experiences.

The budget document for the U.S. Department of Education also reiterates plans for "Effective Teaching and Learning" funds for STEM, literacy, and a "well-rounded" education.

This last fund would create a $75 million grant competition supporting "innovative practices" across many disciplines, including the arts, foreign languages, civics, history, and health education. As part of this proposal, a fund exclusively for arts education would be eliminated. In essence, advocates for all these different disciplines would compete for a slice of the $75 million pie, with no guarantees for any particular subjects.

The $187 million literacy fund would replace the existing Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program, as well as the Ready-to-Learn Television program. It's designed to provide competitive grants to states for "comprehensive" literacy-improvement efforts, and would "build on" Striving Readers.

I'll return to the STEM request in a moment.

It's important to keep in mind that a budget request should not be confused with reality. Many of the ideas here have been proposed before. Some eventually are approved by Congress in some fashion, but plenty are ignored or altered in significant ways.

For a broader, big-picture analysis of the president's budget request for fiscal 2014, check out this post over at Politics K-12. In all, the president is requesting $71 billion for the Education Department.

The High School Redesign proposal would promote the "whole-school transformation of the high school experience" to provide students with "challenging and relevant" academic and career-related learning experiences that prepare them for postsecondary education and careers. It would provide competitive grants to districts in partnership with universities and employers.

The budget plan gives considerable attention to STEM education. The president outlines a number of new program proposals in this area. For one, Obama calls for a new, $150 million STEM Innovation Networks program, which would provide competitive grants to school districts, in partnership with universities, nonprofits, businesses and others, to improve STEM learning. The grants would support efforts to identify, test, and implement "evidence-based practices to provide rich STEM learning opportunities for students."

Other STEM plans include:

• STEM Virtual Learning Network ($5 million): Create a professional STEM learning community that operates primarily (but not exclusively) online, enabling STEM educators to share innovative content, teaching strategies, and research findings.

• STEM Master Teacher Corps ($35 million): This pilot program would "recognize and reward the most accomplished STEM educators," providing them opportunities to serve as instructional leaders and get extra pay.

• STEM Teacher Pathways ($80 million): Would provide competitive grants to recruit and train effective STEM teachers for high-need schools.

• Effective Teaching and Learning: STEM ($150 million): Would replace the Mathematics and Science Partnerships program. It would fund partnerships between districts and universities to help states improving STEM education.

• Fund for the Improvement of Education ($30 million): This funding would expand the IMATCH program (Improving Mathematics Achievement and Transition to College From High School), a joint initiative of the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation.

These STEM plans are part of a broader effort by the administration to change the federal government's "fragmented approach to STEM education" by consolidating or restructuring 114 programs across 13 agencies.

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