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Rural Districts Band Together to Improve STEM Education

In the absence of teachers and supplies, rural districts in several states have formed consortiums aimed at improving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, according to a recent article by The Atlantic.

The article highlights the efforts of rural district consortiums in Florida and Tennessee, which have struggled to find qualified STEM teachers, purchase supplies for science experiments, and have seen declining student enrollment numbers. In Tennessee, nine districts have partnered with local businesses that send employees to rural schools to teach students STEM concepts and apply those concepts to careers. Some consortiums have also created resources like the "Lab-in-a-Box," which provides teachers with lesson plans and materials for lab experiments. Other consortiums have worked together to increase video and teleconference opportunities for teachers and students.

A report released last month from the Pittsburgh-based Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development found that opportunities to learn about STEM are lacking at some rural schools due to teacher inexperience and shrinking budgets. Students who graduate from rural schools are less likely than their non-rural peers to have completed a high school science sequence of classes, including chemistry, biology and physics. Many rural schools also struggle to attract and retain science teachers, which may mean they are unable to offer certain science courses or rely on unqualified teachers to teach those courses. Some research shows that science teachers in rural areas are less likely than urban science teachers to have a graduate degree in science or to have majored in science.

Nationwide, many rural districts rely on outside funding to grow STEM programs. Companies like Chevron have recently invested in STEM programs in rural school districts to improve education and workforce development, while some nonprofits have invested in specific STEM initiatives, like robotics clubs, in rural areas.

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