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What is a STEM School? N.C. Recognition Program Has an Answer

At a time when STEM-focused schools are cropping up all over the country, North Carolina is trying to promote a little truth in advertising with a new initiative to recognize schools that meet a specific set of attributes.

The program, which is voluntary, is rolling out this school year in the state. The attributes are focused around three pillars: an integrated curriculum for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that is standards-based; ongoing community and industry engagement; and connections with postsecondary education.

Applicant STEM schools and programs (essentially a school-within-a-school) will be rated at one of four stages: "early," "developing," "prepared," and "model." Those that successfully reach the top two tiers—prepared and model—will gain official recognition after approval by the state board of education.

A lot of energy and resources are being devoted these days to STEM education and STEM schools, but some experts worry that oftentimes the STEM label is too easily applied. This program offers one approach to what kind of educational experience merits the moniker. Of course, there is no doubt plenty of ideas, and room for disagreement, about what elements are central to a STEM school. We'll be watching to see how the North Carolina approach is received.

You can find a detailed Education Week story here.

As you might imagine, some STEM advocates elsewhere are already taking note. In fact, the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network has borrowed the same set of STEM attributes to be used as part of an external evaluation of a set of recently established STEM schools developed with support from the state's Race to the Top grant.

For more on STEM schools, check out this 2011 Education Week story about the new wave of such schools emerging around the nation.

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