Monday, August 29, 2011

Change the Equation: A Rubric for Corporate Philanthropy in STEM Learning

There’s no doubt that STEM education is getting more attention these days. Education advocates, professional scientific organizations, and governments at the local, state, and federal levels have stepped up their commitments to promoting STEM. Increasingly, corporations are coming to understand that supporting STEM education is essential for ensuring that there is a STEM workforce in the future.

Change the Equation (CTEq), a group of more than 110 corporate leaders devoted to supporting STEM education programs, has released two guiding documents for their members and other corporate philanthropists interested in STEM learning. The Design Principles for Effective STEM Philanthropy and the accompanying Rubric are designed to help corporate leaders support STEM learning in a way that will have a meaningful impact and align their philanthropic goals around common interests. The Design Principles draw on research and the real-world experiences of corporate philanthropic leaders.

The Design Principles outlines eight overarching principles to use as a framework when partnering with a STEM education partner:

·      Address a compelling and well-defined need
·      Use rigorous evaluation to continuously measure and inform progress toward ambitious but manageable goals
·      Ensure work is sustainable
·      Promote replicability and scalability
·      Identify outside conditions that can hinder or thwart progress
·      Create high-impact partnerships
·      Ensure individual attention to diverse learners’ needs
·      Ensure organizational capacity to achieve goals

In addition, there are six STEM-specific principles:

·      Offer challenging and relevant STEM content
·      Include a focus on “21st century skills”
·      Inspire interest and engagement in STEM
·      Encourage hands-on, inquiry-based learning
·      Address the needs of underrepresented groups
·      Ensure the capacity of program staff or volunteers to promote student learning in STEM

Notably, the Design Principles and Rubrics are not designed to be a checklist for corporate partners to evaluate STEM education programs. Rather, they serve as a guideline for corporate leaders who want to make the greatest impact in their philanthropy. Furthermore, the Design Principles are a work in progress, and Change the Equation’s website says that the organization will “refine and improve them as [they] learn more from our member companies and other leaders in STEM learning.”

What does this mean for afterschool programs? Afterschool practitioners and intermediaries may find that they are already doing many of the things outlined by the Principles—especially if their program is concerned with youth development. Since the Principles are not a checklist for evaluation, programs should not feel that they have to meet all of the criteria outlined in the Rubric. Rather than be a hard and fast rule for determining quality, the Design Principles could provide a common ground for corporate philanthropists and STEM educators to have a conversation about STEM learning.


Anonymous said...

I'm especially glad to see that these Design Principles include an emphasis on hands on, experiential learning methodologies, like project-based learning (PBL). In Philadelphia, afterschool programs in the city-funded network continue to work to incorporate math content in PBL activities.

Daniel Bent said...

Re: "Use rigorous evaluation to continuously measure and inform progress toward ambitious but manageable goals"

There is a largely unrecognized problem with "rigorous evaluation." Students are often actively tested and evaluated to determine their progress and the efficacy of the program. This certainly seems reasonable enough. After all funding entities that want to know if they are getting bang for their buck. However, overt testing and evaluation of individual students can drive the kids who are performing below grade level out of the after school program. After all, after school programs are typically voluntary.

This is just another manifestation of the principle, well known in science, that by measuring something we also affect the very thing we are measuring. Using a mercury thermometer to measure the temperature of a cup of coffee is a classic example.

In after school programs, the poor performing students are the ones we most want to reach so they can become higher performing students. Testing them gives them yet another reminder that they are poor performers.

We must keep in mind that for students performing below grade level in school, or an after school program where they have to take tests, is a miserable place to be.

So, we must be very careful to make the evaluation imperceptible to the students or we run the high risk of driving away the very students we most want in the program.

Think about it.

Kalie said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Daniel, you raise a great point about evaluation. My reading of that particular design principle is that evaluation is not necessarily oriented toward standards-based learning goals, but rather, particular "ambitious but manageable goals" unique to each program. This may or may not have to do with academic performance--for example, it could be completion of a particular project within a certain amount of time, attendance at a number of sessions, active participation on a team, or any number of metrics that after school programs typically use to measure effectiveness.