NEA Awards First STEM Challenge Grant to Colorado

By Celeste Busser and Tim Walker

The National Education Association has awarded its first STEM challenge grant to Colorado’s STEM training initiative to help prepare more Colorado students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math. The NEA Challenge Grant was created in October after President Obama announced his administration’s commitment to train 100,000 new STEM teachers.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the STEM workforce accounts for more than 50 percent of U.S. economic growth, yet very few U.S. workers are actually employed in STEM-related fields, which are expected to add 2.7 million new jobs by 2018. Furthermore, many of these workers are nearing retirement, potentially leaving behind a large void in fields critical to the economy. According to a 2012 report by Microsoft, only 2,100 high schools (public and private) offered the Advanced Placement test in computer science in 2011 – down 25 percent over the past five years – and in most states, computer science does not satisfy core graduation requirements.

NEA’s goal is to raise $1.5 million to help fund efforts to take the model created by New Jersey’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and bring it to schools across the country. CTL’s Progressive Science Initiative cultivates highly qualified educators to fill science and math teacher shortages. The program has added more than 130 new physics and chemistry teachers since it began in 2009. CTL’s Progressive Science Initiative (PSI) and Progressive Mathematics Initiative (PMI) uses free digital materials to support the teaching of more than 20 courses in math and science, which some 500 existing STEM-subject teachers have used to improve teaching and learning in New Jersey schools.

NEA awarded $200,000 to CTL to expand its math and science program in Colorado. The NEA challenge inspired the Morgridge Family Foundation and Xcel Energy to provide the matching funds to complete the Colorado’s STEM training initiative. Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, Colorado Education Association President (CEA) Kerrie Dallman, along with representatives from NJCTL, Morgridge Family Foundation and Xcel Energy announced the grant award on Monday  at Northglenn High School in Northglenn, Colo.

“Colorado’s economy is adding jobs in STEM-related fields every day and we need to meet this growing demand by educating a highly-skilled and competitive workforce,” said Lt. Gov Joe Garcia. “Colorado is replicating progressive science and math training programs that will help translate a teacher’s first-rate instruction into better learning for students in the classroom.”

“NEA applauds Gov. Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Garcia, the Colorado Education Association, the Morgridge Family Foundation and Xcel Energy for their commitment to helping Colorado’s students succeed in the worldwide economy. We are thrilled to be working together to get additional qualified, caring, and committed math and science teachers into the state’s classrooms,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

“We know a great teacher can make a tremendous impact on a student’s desire and ability to master STEM content, but Colorado lacks the number of teachers we need to help enough students learn these exciting subjects,” said Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman. “This investment in STEM will put more qualified, caring, and committed math and science teachers in our classrooms, furthering our state’s collective goal of preparing every student to thrive in a dynamic economy.”

“Improving STEM education is imperative for the energy business and other sectors as well as our overall economy,” said President and CEO of Public Service Co. of Colorado, and Xcel Energy Company. “More than half of our current jobs require STEM degrees or extensive math or science skills. These are positions critical to our business.”

“There is a clear understanding that our nation’s prosperity is tied to innovation and that innovation will be spurred by our ability to engage students in STEM subjects and programs. NEA will continue to lead efforts to improve STEM teaching and learning and invest in programs that work,” Van Roekel added.