On September 25, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of Education acknowledging that too many of our kids lack access to high-quality science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, including computer science (CS).
Pointing to the alarming truth that 40 percent of high schools do not offer physics and 60 percent do not offer computer science1,2—a lack of access that is exacerbated in rural, low income, and minority communities—the memo directs the Department of Education to prioritize STEM education efforts in the federal grant making, with particular emphasis on CS. Specifically, the Secretary of Education is directed to reallocate at least $200 million of existing funds each year toward CS and STEM education and teacher recruitment and training, beginning in FY18. The memo was signed in the presence of students from Boys and Girls Clubs in Maryland.
On the heels of this memorandum came loud support from the tech industry. On September 26, representatives from the private sector gathered in Detroit, Mich., and together pledged an additional $300 million over five years in money, technology, and volunteers to support K-12 CS learning. This commitment, championed by Ivanka Trump, is fueled by several tech giants including Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce, to name a few. The afterschool voice was well represented, with both Namrata Gupta (executive director of After-School All-Stars Bay Area) and Michael Beckerman (president and CEO of the Internet Association and board member for the national After-School All-Stars) in attendance. While the exact recipients of this commitment are not known at this time, some companies, like Microsoft and Salesforce, will continue supporting their ongoing CS investments in programs and organizations such as TEALS, code.org, and others.
Undoubtedly, the attention to and elevation of STEM and CS education by the administration, with support on both sides of the political aisle and from the technology sector, is incredibly valuable. However, many questions remain as to how the tech sector commitments and Department of Education prioritization will be implemented. To which Department of Education programs will the STEM priority apply, and how will the contentious budget appropriations process impact this effort?
The Secretary will not identify programs or estimate the amount of grant support for high-quality STEM until after Congress passes final appropriations each fiscal year. While the emphasis on STEM is laudable, the administration’s proposed budget seeks to eliminate some of the main funding streams and programs—The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (ESSA Title IV), Teacher Preparation and Development program (ESSA Title II), and the NASA Education Department—that currently support STEM and CS education. Congressional budgets may not eliminate, but do underfund many of those same programs. This creates confusion around how significant the priorities of STEM, CS education, and teacher development really are. Issues about how much of the STEM prioritization will be focused on computing as opposed to other STEM disciplines, and how education priorities unrelated to STEM may be impacted, remain to be seen.
While we disagree with the administration on Department of Education program funding levels, we appreciate the White House’s and technology sector’s efforts to elevate STEM and CS education and look forward to more details on how this work will progress. The memorandum dictates that the Secretary will release guidance documents and technical assistance to support high-quality CS and STEM; we recommend those documents include afterschool as a critical component of the STEM and CS learning ecosystem.
Check out our resources to learn more about the value of afterschool STEM!