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Snacks by Anita Krishnamurthi
MAR
20
2017

STEM
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An anti-education, anti-science budget proposal

By Anita Krishnamurthi

Photo by Gage Skidmore.

As expected, President Trump’s long-awaited “skinny budget” contained deep cuts to domestic discretionary spending. Particularly disappointing to those of us in the afterschool STEM education community are the outright eliminations of the programs that help young people develop science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills, literacy and proficiency—the currency needed to be hired in our modern world.

The elephant in the room

Let’s start with the biggest concern: the budget proposes to eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative, the sole federal funding source exclusively for afterschool. This program provides 1.6 million kids with innovative learning spaces after school.

Nearly 70 percent of parents with kids enrolled in afterschool programs report that their children receive some form of STEM learning opportunity in this setting. Not only that, 70 percent of all parents believe that afterschool programs should offer STEM activities and programming.

Don’t cut what works

Despite claims to the contrary, a great deal of widely available research illustrates the impact of afterschool programs, and substantial evidence documents STEM-specific outcomes. A recent multi-state study found that afterschool STEM programs are helping to close America’s skills gap. STEM Ready America, a recently-released compendium of articles from 40 experts, presents compelling evidence of the impact of afterschool STEM.

The Afterschool Alliance has long tracked outcomes and best practices in afterschool STEM programming, including a recent paper on the impacts of afterschool STEM. Our Afterschool Impacts Database offers a searchable, user-friendly collection of impacts data, and our STEM program profiles share examples of innovative afterschool STEM programs.

Additional proposed cuts in key areas for afterschool STEM

Collaboration between school and afterschool. The budget proposal does not mention the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants program, the new Title IV Part A block grant program authorized under ESSA that focuses heavily on STEM education, including in afterschool. This likely implies that no funding is sought for this program.

This is a huge disappointment. The activities authorized under this grant specifically supported well-rounded learning activities with a strong emphasis on STEM education and encouraged collaboration among personnel in schools, afterschool programs, and informal programs to better integrate programming and instruction in STEM subjects.

Professional development. The budget also eliminates the $2.4 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program (Title II of ESSA), which supports teacher professional development. The loss is a blow to afterschool STEM because these funds offer a way to support joint professional development and collaborations between in-school and out-of-school educators.

Programs. In addition to drastic cuts at the Department of Education, the proposal eliminates the $115 million budget for NASA’s Office of Education. This amounts to just 0.5 percent of NASA’s overall budget and less than 0.003 percent of the federal budget.

MAR
3
2017

STEM
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Afterschool's role in preparing a STEM Ready America

By Anita Krishnamurthi

Afterschool STEM programming shone brightly under the spotlight this week with the release of a research study on outcomes and a compendium of articles presenting research and examples of effective afterschool STEM programming.

STEM Next at the University of San Diego (carrying on the work of the Noyce Foundation) and the Mott Foundation partnered to host an event at the National Press Club on March 1 celebrating afterschool STEM programming and its role in preparing young people for the workforce. Dr. Sylvester James Gates Jr., an extremely distinguished scientist and professor at the University of Maryland gave the keynote address. Dr. Gates was also on President Obama's Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, where he played a key role in advocating for STEM education.  It was in this latter capacity that Dr. Gates discussed his belief in the value of informal and afterschool STEM learning, recognizing that drawing young people into STEM fields is often more of an emotional issue than an intellectual one.

This last point is a special strength of afterschool programs, evident in the findings from an 11-state study conducted by Dr. Gil Noam and his team at Harvard’s PEAR Institute and Dr. Todd Little and his team at Texas Tech University’s Institute for Measurement, Methodology, Analysis, and Policy (IMMAP).  They gathered and analyzed outcomes reported by 1600 students and nearly 150 facilitators in 160 afterschool programs. The data show that afterschool STEM programs substantially increase young people’s interest in STEM fields and STEM careers and can also help students to think of themselves as capable of doing science.  You can read more about these findings.

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learn more about: Events and Briefings Science
DEC
20
2016

STEM
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December surprise: Congress passes America COMPETES bill

By Anita Krishnamurthi

In a surprise move, Congress sent the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (formerly called America COMPETES) to the President for his signature late last week. The legislation authorizes research investments and the STEM education investments of various science mission agencies such as NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Energy.

The Afterschool Alliance has worked for several years to ensure that language supportive of afterschool is included in this bill as we recognize the importance of building bridges between STEM professionals and the afterschool field. We are delighted to report that the final bill includes several provisions that recognize the importance of out-of-school learning for STEM. 

Of specific interest is Title III, the section on STEM education, and the following items in that title.

Section 301

In the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program, there is a discussion of innovative practices in STEM teacher recruitment and retention. This includes partnering with nonprofit or professional associations to provide the fellowship’s recipients with opportunities for professional development, as well as conducting pilot programs to improve teacher service and retention.

What it means for afterschool: This may provide an opening for afterschool providers to collaborate with schools of teacher education in innovative ways, including practicum placements for student teachers in afterschool STEM programs.  

Section 303

A STEM education advisory panel is to be set up jointly by the Secretary of Education, the Director of NSF, the NASA Administrator and the Administrator of NOAA to advise the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM).

This panel is required to have at least 11 members and include individuals from academic institutions, industry, and nonprofit organizations, including in-school, out-of-school, and informal education practitioners. The group will guide CoSTEM on “various aspects of federal investment in STEM education including ways to better vertically and horizontally integrate Federal STEM education programs and activities from pre-kindergarten through graduate study and the workforce, and from in-school to out-of-school in order to improve transitions for students moving through the STEM education and workforce pipelines.” 

What it means for afterschool: This provides an opening for afterschool advocates to nominate experts in informal STEM education who understand afterschool STEM programming deeply.  This perspective would be valuable and influential on the STEM education advisory panel.

NOV
7
2016

STEM
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New partnership will advance afterschool STEM policies

By Anita Krishnamurthi

The Afterschool Alliance is delighted to announce a new partnership with the Overdeck Family Foundation to advance afterschool STEM policy. We will be working with the statewide afterschool networks to achieve this goal, as many networks are already engaged in advancing afterschool STEM learning opportunities in their states. This new project will help us amplify our support to the state afterschool networks so they can advocate for a strong role for afterschool programs in their state’s ESSA implementation plans. 

The Overdeck partnership also allows us to support a smaller subset of statewide afterschool networks to deepen their work on advancing policies to support afterschool STEM programming via state level initiatives. We are thrilled to announce that we made awards to the following organizations for this initiative:

These six state networks demonstrated that the policy environment in their states is conducive for advancing afterschool STEM. We are partnering with the STEM Education Coalition, an influential national advocacy group for STEM education, to provide technical assistance to the statewide afterschool networks for this project. Through this collaboration, we will be providing regular STEM policy updates to the networks and working with them to provide tailored resources, such as the recent set of advocacy resources for afterschool/informal STEM. We will also broker partnerships between the Coalition’s members and state afterschool advocates, an often stated need of the networks. We are anticipating that these new partnerships will bring new influential STEM allies and voices into the afterschool conversation.

We are excited about this project and look forward to supporting the afterschool field with strong policies that will provide young people with greater access to high-quality afterschool STEM programming.

NOV
3
2016

POLICY
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A new grant program in ESSA is an opportunity for afterschool STEM and more

By Anita Krishnamurthi

President Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act into law.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new education law of the land, established a number of new, flexible funding streams that states and districts can employ to support afterschool programs. One of these is the new Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants program (SSAE), in the law's Title IV Part A. 

Late last month, the US Department of Education released non-regulatory guidance on the SSAE grant program to help states, districts and schools provide students with a more well-rounded education. ESSA authorized $1.65 billion annually for this program (though Congress is debating the final funding level), which will provide funding to every state and district to support well-rounded learning opportunities with a strong emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, as well as learning technologies and programs that keep students safe and healthy. The SSAE grants program is intended to be distributed by formula to districts, according to the following stipulations:

  • Ninety-five percent of the funds will flow to school districts, to be spent largely at their discretion, with the remaining 5 percent reserved for state-level activities. 
  • Every district will receive at least $10,000 through the program, and those receiving more than $30,000 in federal funds under the program (all but the smallest school districts will likely cross this threshold) must devote 20 percent to “well-rounded” learning activities, which include a large variety of STEM activities.

There are a nubmer of activities specifically authorized under ESSA and detailed in the new Department of Education guidance for the SSAE grants program that are helpful for afterschool STEM.

Opportunities for afterschool STEM in the SSAE grant program

  • “Facilitating collaboration among school, afterschool program, and informal program personnel to improve the integration of programming and instruction in the identified [STEM] subjects” [Sec. 4107 (a)(3)(C)(v)]
  • “Providing hands-on learning and exposure to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and supporting the use of field-based or service learning to enhance the students’ understanding of the STEM subjects” [Sec. 4107 (a)(3)(C)(iii)]
  • “Supporting the participation of low-income students in nonprofit competitions related to STEM subjects (such as robotics, science research, invention, mathematics, computer science, and technology competitions)” [Sec. 4107 (a)(3)(C)(ii)]
  • “Activities and programs to support student access to, and success in, a variety of well-rounded education experiences” [Sec. 4107 (a)(3)(J)]

The guidance issued last month also provides specific program examples that will help school districts and local communities better navigate these opportunities included in the law.

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learn more about: Education Reform ESEA Federal Policy
JUL
14
2016

STEM
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Victories for STEM education in recent legislative activity

By Anita Krishnamurthi

As the legislative season winds down, several wins for afterschool STEM education have emerged. Most recently, on July 13-14 the House Appropriations Committee marked up the fiscal year 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) funding bill. The bill maintains funding for 21st CCLC at the current level of $1.16 billion, which is very good news! As you might recall, the Senate version of the bill cut afterschool by $117 million, in line with President Obama's budget request.

Informal STEM education has bright outlook in new bills

STEM is increasingly an integral part of afterschool programs, so the House's proposed funding level for 21st CCLC will ensure that millions of children will continue to have access to STEM learning opportunities. The House education spending bill also provides $1 billion for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program, the new block grant in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Although this is lower than the authorized level of $1.65 billion, the House appropriation puts the funding at $700 million over the Senate LHHS bill and $500 million above the President’s budget request. STEM education advocates are breathing a collective sigh of relief, as this grant was designed to be a formula grant for districts to use toward a wide range of activities, including STEM programing (with very supportive language about partnerships with afterschool programs), arts education and counseling services. House appropriators have indicated their strong support for the initiative with this funding level, but the final outcome is far from guaranteed as the Senate and House numbers will have to be reconciled eventually.

On July 7, 2016, the House Education and the Workforce Committee held a full committee markup of H.R. 5587, The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Actwhich you may know better as the Perkins CTE bill. The update includes changes that recognize the role of afterschool and summer programs in preparing young people for the workforce, and explicitly includes community-based organizations as eligible entities for funding. The bill has provisions for states to award grants that provide “support for programs and activities that increase access, student engagement, and success in STEM fields (including computer science), especially for underrepresented groups.” This provision could be very beneficial for afterschool STEM programs, especially when combined with the new expanded eligibility for starting these activities in the 5th grade (compared to the previous limit of 7th grade). 

Finally, the Senate Commerce Committee marked up S. 3084, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which encompasses plan to reauthorize the America COMPETES Actin late June. This bill authorizes the various federal science mission agencies, such as NASA, NOAA, NSF, Dept. of Energy etc., including their significant investments in STEM education. There are several key elements of the bill that are supportive of informal/afterschool STEM programming:

MAR
30
2016

STEM
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Upcoming webinar: Learn to Speak "STEM-ish"

By Anita Krishnamurthi

Given all the buzz around "STEM" (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education, it would be easy to assume that everyone knows about it and supports it. But as STEM education advocates know, it can still be challenging to make a compelling case for public investment in STEM education reform. And it can be harder still when it comes to STEM learning in afterschool programs.

But we have some tools and tips that can help! Join us for a webinar on Wednesday April 6 from 1-2 p.m. ET to learn how to craft your best message around afterschool STEM to expand public support.  

The Afterschool Alliance has been working with the FrameWorks Institute, an organization that specializes in framing issues in ways that will move public opinion, to come up with research-based communications strategies to make the most compelling case possible for afterschool STEM. In this webinar we will be joined by Jenn Nichols, a Senior Associate at the FrameWorks Institute, who will review common communications traps that can weaken your messages’ effectiveness. We will practice staying out of those traps using tested tools that work to increase people’s understanding of informal STEM learning, how it works, and why it matters.  

You can take a sneak peek at some of this work on the Afterschool STEM Hub website, a resource center with the tools you need to make the case for expanding and supporting innovative and engaging informal STEM learning.  

In Part 1 of the webinar, on April 6, we will be introducing a wide array of practical tools and communication tips. In Part 2 of the webinar, on May 3, we will showcase the remaining tools and address any questions that come up as you start to apply these in your own work.

Help STEM blast off in your afterschool program! Register here to attend the webinar.

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learn more about: Advocacy Events and Briefings Science
FEB
11
2016

STEM
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How did afterschool STEM fare in the President's budget proposal?

By Anita Krishnamurthi

Another year, another budget. But this time, a final budget request from this President. So let’s break it down and see how STEM education, and specifically STEM education in afterschool, fares in this budget request.

Just like last year, the overall request for STEM education across the federal science mission agencies is $3 billion. This includes everything from K-12 to graduate education. For more details, you can see the STEM education fact sheet from the White House.

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Education and Human Resources Directorate, which funds most of the STEM education programs at NSF, will receive an 8.3% increase to $952.86M. Of this, the one dedicated funding stream that targets informal science education and is used to fund afterschool STEM programming—the Advancing Informal STEM Education (AISL) program—will receive $62.5M, which is level-funded from the FY2016 estimate. The budget proposal would continue the AISL focus on supporting research projects that utilize informal learning environments in novel ways to engage students from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM. Another program that is often used to provide afterschool STEM programs is the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which is funded by H-1B visa fees. This program is also level-funded at $25M. NSF is also committing $120M over five years in the new Computer Science for All initiative to enable rigorous and engaging computer science (CS) education in schools all across the country. It is as yet unclear if any of this funding can be utilized by afterschool programs although the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program will work with NSF to increase awareness of high-quality CS resources for afterschool programs.

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learn more about: Budget Congress POTUS Science