New force for STEM education
A gap in the state’s science, technology, engineering and math education has now been filled, with the formal launching Wednesday of the California STEM Innovation Network: CSI Net.
Based on a successful model in Ohio, CSI Net will be a private/public partnership bringing together K-12 and higher education institutions, high tech businesses, nonprofits, museums and foundations to support and fund STEM policies and programs.
Through a STEM council and regional STEM advocates, the organization will set priorities in an area rich with foundation and corporate involvement but lacking cohesiveness. As a result, even in Silicon Valley, some schools have few computers and narrow bandwidth; the state is ranked, by one measure, 47th in the use of technology for instruction; and there’s little exposure in middle and high schools to STEM careers. (See student survey.)
CSI Net will be directed by Stephanie Couch, who previously led the K-20 CA Ed Tech Collaborative. Couch had expected three dozen STEM leaders at the STEM summit this week; instead 112 participants signed up – a recognition among corporate and nonprofit leaders of STEM education’s vital role in California’s economy and the need for a unified, strong voice to promote it.
Couch said CSI Net’s first task will be to advocate for making science and engineering a priority in the federal reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind. In most states – certainly in many school districts in California – No Child Left Behind’s focus on annual testing in English and math has led to a narrowing of the curriculum, particularly in low-performing districts, with a disappearance of inquiry-based learning.
The growth of career/technical education in high school, with programs in computer arts, green technology and digital media linked to practical applications and apprenticeships, are a bright spot. But Couch said CSI Net’s goal is to infuse STEM and its values of critical thinking and problem solving in the K-14 curriculum. The most immediate way to do that, with districts facing severe budget cuts, is through expanding after-school programs like Citizen Schools in the Bay Area. It recruits volunteers from industry to lead students in hands-on learning.
Many corporations fund their own STEM programs in schools. CSI Net will do an inventory of what’s being offered and encourage programs to learn from one another and orient their efforts to the priorities that CSI Net will set.
Cal Poly President Warren Baker; Susan Hackwood, executive director of the California Council on Science and Technology, and Raytheon CEO William Swanson co-chaired the planning for CSI Net. Bechtel, Chevron and the Gates Foundation have pledged to underwrite CSI Net. Gates also has supported similar efforts in six other states, including the Ohio STEM Learning Network, which contributed to that state’s Race to the Top application.
Also on Wednesday, the Assembly Education Committee approved AB 2019, Assemblyman Tom Torlakson’s bill to establish a task force to develop a comprehensive state plan for technology education. The 15-member task force will make recommendations by September 2012 in the areas of staff training in technology, wireless infrastructure, hardware and software issues and funding options. Lobbyists for Children Now and the California Teachers Assn. were among those that endorsed the creation of a statewide plan for technology. Torlakson, who’s running for superintendent of public instruction, said that private funding will underwrite the task force’s work.