Tag Archives: Opportunity

Poor Schools Face “Double Disadvantage” in STEM Education

Only twenty-six percent of high school seniors in the U.S. attend schools that offer some type of computer science course.

This stark statistic, among other inequities that exist between high- and low-poverty schools, appears in a brief entitled “Ending the Double Disadvantage: Ensuring STEM Opportunities in Our Poorest Schools,” published by Change The Equation (CTEq).

CTEq is a Washington, D.C.- based non-profit, non-partisan coalition of corporate leaders, educators, and policy advocates that convened in 2010 as a result of President Obama’s call to “strengthen America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation.” Its board of directors includes CEOs from some of the world’s most influential companies: Intel, Time Warner, Eastman Kodak, DuPont, Exxon Mobil, among others, with a goal toward improving STEM literacy for all children in the U.S.

As tech leaders looking toward the future for the next generation of employees, CTEq has reason to sound the alarm. The brief illustrates how, and (more importantly) to what extent, students who attend high-poverty schools are being left behind.

Using data gathered by the U.S. Department of Education, CTEq defines high-poverty schools as those where three-quarters or more of enrolled students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. By that definition, 2015 data shows a full twenty-five percent of all U.S. school children attend high-poverty schools.

According to the report, these students attend schools that lack lab space, don’t offer a full range of STEM courses, and don’t have adequate equipment to conduct experiments; in other words, the basics which low-poverty districts would consider foundational necessities.

  • 47 percent of fourth graders at high-poverty schools do a hands-on experiment once per week, compared to 61 percent of students in low-poverty schools
  • 62 percent of eighth grade teachers at high-poverty schools report having the resources they need to teach math, while 79 percent of their low-poverty-district counterparts do
  • 23 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools hold math degrees, while 31 percent in low-poverty schools do
  • 52 percent of high-poverty schools offer a statistics class, while 88 percent of wealthier schools do
  • 39 percent of high-poverty schools offer Advanced Placement Physics compared to 75 percent of high-income schools

These inequities have dire consequences for high-poverty-school students as they enter the workforce, unable to compete for jobs and ill-prepared for the technological demands of the 21st century.

As CTEq’s report demonstrates, “students in such schools suffer disadvantage upon disadvantage over the course of their schooling, and they face dim prospects for rewarding STEM careers.”

Although achieving equal access to STEM education may seem unattainable, there are solutions.

Locally, high schoolers can apply to attend INVESTING NOW, a program run through the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. Since 1988, the program has offered a “continuous pipeline for students from groups traditionally underrepresented to prepare for, enter, and graduate from the University of Pittsburgh as STEM majors.”

The program achieves its goals by providing individualized academic advising, SAT preparation, private tutoring with a Pitt undergrad, college planning workshops, hands-on projects in physics, engineering, and chemistry, and more.

In 2016, one hundred percent of INVESTING NOW’s high school seniors went on to college. More than half of them chose STEM majors.

According to Dr. Alaine Allen, INVESTING NOW’s Director, “Forming relationships with students and coaching them along the way to get into college is what we have observed has the most impact.”

Making sure they are challenging themselves throughout their high school careers, Dr. Allen says, is the key. If a student attends a high-poverty school, INVESTING NOW guides him or her to take the most rigorous courses available, sign up for extracurricular activities to gain STEM exposure, or plug into research as a supplement to academics to make them competitive.

The report points to ASSET STEM Education, which is based in Pittsburgh and is an active member of the Remake Learning Network, along with Science in Motion and the Amgen Biotech Experience as exemplary organizations working on the national level to help high-poverty schools acquire STEM resources and provide extra professional development to teachers.

College students majoring in STEM can earn teaching certificates “without adding time or cost to four-year degrees” through new programs like UTeach, a Texas-born initiative that’s spreading across the country.

State accountability systems can make science a priority by measuring educational outcomes, the same way reading and math outcomes are analyzed. As CTEq reports, “If science gets measured, it’s more likely to get taught.”

In the meantime, local efforts like the Pittsburgh Regional STEM Ecosystem and the Carnegie Science Center STEM Excellence Pathway are taking active steps to expand access to high-quality STEM learning, and programs like Citizen Science Lab (whose annual STEAMabration is coming up this Saturday!) are bringing STEM learning to children and communities in need.

Catch Up with an Annual Conference

Any member of Spark, the Kids + Creativity Network, should know that the world of creative education is constantly changing and evolving. From digital media & learning, to programming and coding, to artistic strategies, and more, education is in constant flux. As soon as one aspect gains popularity, there is another insight that is emerging in the field. In order to stay up-to-date on renovations and innovations in education, industry leaders need to disperse information! They do this in a series of annual conferences focused on creativity and education development.

Annual conferences are everywhere, and taking place all the time. They are also hosted by a variety of organizations, and inclined to attract a variety of audiences. The topics vary, also. While the Sandbox Summit, focused on the importance and benefits of play, is related to the Games for Change Festival, investigating how games can be used for more than just fun, it is a completely different avenue than CPSI Conference, facilitated by the Creative Problem Solving Institute and focused on finding the motivation in people to expand creativity, and the PAEYC Conference, facilitated by the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children and focused on communicating the value and best practices of early childhood education. These conferences cover entirely different topics, but all fall under the banner of education and creativity–the bond that ties them all together.

Additional conferences worth checking out are the DML Conference, focused on analyzing and interpreting the impact of digital media and the Internet, Big Ideas Fest, geared towards redesigning the future of education, Fred Forward, facilitated by the Fred Rogers Center and focused on technology and interactive media in early childhood education, and the NMC Summer Conference, brought to life by the New Media Consortium and featuring talks on the technology that makes learning more relevant and more engaging. The Aspen Ideas Festival, featuring though-provoking, meaningful, and fun deep-discussions on current issues, and the CSUSB Conference for Innovative Education, facilitated by the California State University of San Bernardino and focused on 21st century learning, are also worth a look!

EdSurge, an online education publication, has compiled a hefty list of upcoming conferences this year that have the potential to make positive differences. Five of them stood out as opportunities that could be valuable to Spark network members! The 5th Annual International Symposium for Emerging Technologies for Online Learning, hosted in Las Vegas, Nevada and quickly approaching at the end of this month, may spark the interest of some online educators in the Pittsburgh region, promising to examine the application of online and blended tools and instruction. The Serious Play Conference may take network members in a different direction as they venture to Seattle, Washington to discuss simulations, virtual worlds, and serious games. Those interested in conversation about the future of open education should travel to Vancouver this October to participate in the Open Education Conference.  For those more interested in the nonprofit development of education institutions and their strategies and efforts, make plans for NYC to participate in the 16th Annual Grantmakers for Education Conference at the end of October.

If traveling is not your thing, but you’d still love to partake in a conference, fear not! Your chance is coming up in November. The Global Education Conference is an online, open to all, FREE conference that seeks to discuss how educators can increase opportunities for building education-related connections across the globe, while supporting cultural awareness. EdSurge provides a solid list of conferences open for registration throughout the end of the year. We encourage you to look at them all!

There are countless education and creativity conferences taking place around the world. Attending one is the perfect opportunity to travel the globe, tell of the incredible things happening here in Pittsburgh, meet incredibly passionate individuals, and learn something new! Spark, a program of The Sprout Fund, can help you do just that through a conference stipend, providing you with financial assistance in conference fees. To learn more about how you can apply for a conference stipend through Spark, check out the website or email  connect@sproutfund.org.

Funding opportunities for Breakthrough School Models and Game-Based Learning


Two national funding opportunities are now accepting proposals for innovative ideas related to re-imagining schools and developing new interactive learning games.

First up, the C2i: Gaming Challenge from the NEA Foundation:

The NEA Foundation and Microsoft – US Partners in Learning want to know your best idea for how interactive technology and game-based learning can improve teaching and learning. According to Kids and Gaming 2011, the latest report from The NPD Group, 91 percent of kids ages 2-17 (approximately 64 million) play electronic games in the U.S., nearly a 10 per cent increase from 2009. The challenge for educators is how to harness this powerful tool.

Submissions for game-based learning initiatives will be accepted until March 5, 2012. Learn more at The NEA Foundation.

Next up, the Wave IIIa: Breakthrough School Models for College Readiness:

Our vision for Wave IIIa is to identify and scale fundamentally redesigned, whole school models that combine the best aspects of brick and mortar and online learning and result in more personalized, mastery based learning.

Prior to applying, all applicants are strongly encouraged to read and review the Wave IIIa Requests for Proposals.

Applying for Wave IIIa support is a two phase process. The initial form-based application will be accepted on a rolling basis until June 8, 2012.

Visit Next Generation Learning Challenges for details on how to apply, to download forms, and access helpful resources.