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Report: Chicago Should Improve Access to STEM

Though many STEM opportunities are available in Chicago's out-of-school programs, the city can do a better job of providing equitable access to those opportunities on a citywide basis, says a new report.

The report, released by the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative, an alliance of STEM education stakeholders, and Project Exploration, a nonprofit science education organization, is the city's first comprehensive survey analysis of STEM opportunities in out-of-school programs. The findings are based on data and surveys from local organizations and a conference held in December 2012.

According to the findings, despite more than 2,000 STEM opportunities provided in the out-of-school hours by more than 500 organizations in 2011, certain groups, like Latinos, were underserved. While Latinos make up 44 percent of the district student population, for example, they only made up 28 percent of those engaged in the STEM learning offerings, even though the programs offering STEM instruction were said to be available throughout the city.

Also of note, girls were found to be taking the most advantage of the STEM opportunities (56 percent girls to 44 percent boys), though they are historically underrepresented in STEM fields.

To the cooperative and Project Exploration, the findings mean Chicago can do a better job of coordinating efforts between programs and targeting groups of students and their parents to improve the access of them.

To increase and improve STEM offerings for all students, the report recommends that the city and school district:

  • Create a portal that connects students (and their parents) to STEM opportunities;

  • Reduce barriers like transportation or language that may prevent some groups from gaining access to opportunities;

  • Improve relations between various stakeholders (teachers, parents, schools); and,

  • Target funding and resources to STEM opportunities for most disadvantaged students.

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