By Ron Ottinger, the director of STEM Next, co-chair of the national STEM Funders Network, and the former executive director of the Noyce Foundation. Known as a leader and expert in STEM learning, Ron has spent the last nine years guiding the Noyce foundations initiatives in informal and out-of-school-time science. With STEM Next, Ron continues to work toward increasing STEM learning opportunities for youth nationally.
This blog was reposted with permission from STEM Next.
President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to afterschool programs would deny millions of American youth the opportunity to engage in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning; inhibit the development of the nation’s future scientists, engineers, inventors, and business leaders; and cut young people off from building the skills they need to advance in school, work, citizenship, and life.
If enacted by Congress, the President’s budget would eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, the single largest source of funding for afterschool and summer programs that enroll 1.6 million students across rural, urban, and suburban communities in all 50 states.
Afterschool and summer programs provide essential learning opportunities for young people. This is particularly true when it comes to STEM learning – a national priority.
And afterschool programs have the support of an overwhelming number of Americans: a recent Quinnipiac poll found 83% are opposed to cuts in afterschool funding.
The Administration has said there is no evidence that these programs are effective. That is simply not true.
Research shows that students participating in afterschool programs increase their grades and academic achievement. Earlier this month, STEM Next launched STEM Ready America: Inspiring and Preparing Students for Success with Afterschool and Summer Learning, featuring new research that found students participating in STEM-focused afterschool programs report increased interest in STEM careers and gains in high-demand skills such as critical thinking and perseverance.
This research was the latest in a growing body of evidence. For example, research by Dr. Deborah Vandell of UC Irvine and colleagues found that students who regularly participate in afterschool programs achieved gains in math and other academic subjects, improved their work habits, and had better school day attendance. Because math proficiency is the gateway to post-secondary STEM majors, closing the achievement gap in math is essential to expanding the pipeline of future STEM leaders.
In 2015, the National Academy of Sciences Board of Science Education released a report noting that out-of-school STEM programs are well suited to building interest in STEM and identity as a STEM learner, reinforcing a similar point made by the President’s Advisory Council on Science and Technology in its 2010 report to the President.
Eliminating the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program is out of step with the actions America’s business, civic, philanthropic, education, and community leaders are taking to improve STEM education. Many of these leaders have come together through the STEM Learning Ecosystems initiative, which supports dynamic collaborations to ensure all young people have opportunities to gain STEM skills and realize their potential. Major corporations are leading partners in STEM learning ecosystems across the country, recognizing the importance of STEM education to workforce and economic development.
States across the country also understand the vital role afterschool STEM plays in education and workforce development. We can look to Indiana and Nebraska for example, two states central to revitalizing the STEM manufacturing sector. Leaders in these states authored articles in STEM Ready America highlighting how they are infusing high quality STEM into afterschool programs to ensure that young people are engaged, prepared and ready for the STEM-centric future.
The President’s proposal would be particularly devastating to low-income children of color and girls who already face barriers to pursuing STEM careers. For example, the wealthiest 20 percent of families devote almost seven times the resources to their children’s enrichment activities outside school than do the poorest 20 percent, leading to a significant learning and opportunity gap, resulting in a 4,000-hour deficit between middle class and low-income children in afterschool and summer learning by the time they reach sixth grade.
These inequitable inputs lead to the inequitable outcomes we see down the line, including in STEM interest, engagement, and pursuit. African Americans and Latinos now represent 29 percent of the general workforce, but just 16 percent of the advanced manufacturing workforce, 15 percent of the computing workforce, and 12 percent of the engineering workforce—rates of participation that have remained essentially flat in recent years. Women have seen no significant improvement over the last 13 years. Eliminating afterschool programs would undoubtedly push low-income children, girls, and children of color even farther behind.
The real crisis in afterschool learning is the lack of opportunities for all who need them: for every child in an afterschool program, there are two waiting to get in. We need to scale up these programs to ensure every child waiting to enroll has access.
And it’s not enough just to expand programs. As STEM Next carries on the 25-year legacy of the Noyce Foundation, we know we must work to improve program quality by investing in the supports and systems that deliver high-quality learning experiences for youth. On that score, the President’s budget also misses the mark, proposing to eliminate these critical supports to STEM learning:
These cuts would make it much more difficult to ensure equitable access to programs, find and train staff, link STEM mentors with youth, and help schools reach beyond the classroom to connect with communities and the private sector.
It’s up to the community of STEM supporters to defeat this shortsighted budget proposal. Join STEM Next in speaking out for STEM and young people by taking two key actions:
Call your elected representatives and ask them to fully fund the 21st Century Community Learning Center program and reject cuts to it and to the other critical youth-serving supports that are facing elimination.
Add your organization’s name to a sign-on letter developed by the Afterschool Alliance calling for funding for the 21st CCLC program. Please feel to share with other organizations who may be interested in signing the letter.
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