Action on Capitol Hill last week effectively quashed the administration’s request to halve the existing 226 STEM learning programs currently spread across 13 federal agencies at a cost of $3 billion. Citing duplications and ineffectiveness, the administration’s proposal sought to consolidate federal responsibility for STEM learning at the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution. The relevant Senate Appropriations Subcommittee apparently did not buy it. We’ll leave to others a discussion of the merits of the particular proposal. But we applaud the growing chorus of voices that are making quality the centerpiece of any discussion about STEM learning.
After years of investment and reform, we should be thankful for any commitment to supporting practices, policies and programs that yield results and either improving or shutting down those that do not. The fact that not every idea or solution is necessarily a good one often gets lost in the post-Sputnik era when proselytizers tout new ideas with Madison Avenue verve. This hype is counterproductive in the long run. Educators have become used to keeping their heads down until the latest silver bullet runs its course. Funders become disenchanted when promised results don’t materialize. Policymakers balk at spending more political capital to defend STEM investments when the payoff has been so uncertain in the past.
Change the Equation’s coalition of companies have also lost patience with grand claims about STEM programs that do not deliver the goods. Working with CTEq, many are carefully reviewing the efficacy and impact of their own philanthropy and talking with the nonprofits they support about principles of quality. With annual STEM learning investments nearing two-thirds of a billion dollars, CTEq members can have a profound impact on young people—assuming those investments go towards programs that have the best track record or show the most promise. Our Design Principles, Rubric, and STEMworks database of already-vetted, effective programs are helping companies get a bigger bang for their buck at a time when public and private dollars are getting scarcer. We are now embarking on work to help companies rally around a handful of programs that have proven their ability to make a real difference at scale. Companies are impatient to see their efforts move beyond supporting islands of excellence.It’s time to ignore the hype and put the focus where it belongs -- on quality.