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Preparing 100,000 STEM Teachers for American Classrooms: Q&A With 100Kin10

Young girl writing at a table.

It’s no secret that U.S. students lag behind many developed nations in mathematical proficiency, and that our country could be doing a lot more to close that gap––for example, recognizing the critical role of early mathematics education in children’s long-term success, acknowledging the inequities in the current system, and seeking change by employing solutions that can improve educational practices on a large scale.

In this Q&A, we invite grantee 100Kin10 network to share highlights about its work to prepare 100,000 STEM teachers from pre-K through Grade 12––including a focused initiative to advance early math learning, and a new vision for the future of STEM education that centers the voices and experiences of diverse learners. 100Kin10 is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation’s Education program.

Briefly tell us about the 100kin10 network’s effort to bring 100,000 teachers into the STEM education field. How has the network worked over the past 10 years to catalyze change?

100Kin10 began in 2011 after President Obama called for preparing 100,000 new, excellent STEM teachers from pre-K through Grade 12 in his State of the Union address. We began with a network of 28 partner organizations, and grew to more than 300 partners in 2021. In that time, we honed three mutually reinforcing strategies:

  1. We cultivated a network of likely and unlikely allies, committed to a shared, multi-year goal.
  2. We focused the network on tackling some of the highest leverage causes of the STEM teachers shortage.
  3. We enabled partners to come together to solve their most pressing problems and accomplish more than they could do on their own.

Through these strategies emerged a highly engaged, innovative, and resilient national network of organizations that was able to maintain focus on solving the STEM teacher shortage even through priority shifts at the federal, state and local levels.

In 2021, a third-party evaluation was conducted to assess the impacts of 100Kin10 over the past 10 years. What were some of the key findings from that evaluation?

In 2021, Bellwether Education Partners found that “through their dedication, creativity, and transformational support for their partners,” 100Kin10 enabled “a more connected, focused, and prepared community of actors, collectively driving impact on the STEM education field, on STEM educators, and on K-12 students.” Bellwether’s assessment specifically pointed to how 100Kin10’s support for their partners contributed to five key advancements in the field of STEM education:

  1. Better recruitment: 100Kin10 preparation programs use improved strategies to recruit highly qualified STEM teacher candidates
  2. Improved preparation: Most STEM teacher candidates have access to evidence-based STEM preparation via 100Kin10 partners
  3. Expanded Early STEM: 100Kin10 partner programs have increased emphasis on preparing and supporting elementary teachers with STEM skills, and in particular foundational math
  4. Enhanced Professional Development: More teachers have access to quality STEM professional growth and collaborative work environments via 100Kin10 partners
  5. More Authentic STEM: More teachers and students have access to meaningful, authentic, and rigorous STEM learning via 100Kin10 partners

In conclusion, Bellwether wrote, “100Kin10’s success in simplifying a vastly complex problem and galvanizing action across the country accelerated positive shifts in the STEM education field that will better equip students to address current and future threats to our health, planet, and economy.”

In 2018, 100kin10 launched an effort focused on advancing joyful and authentic early math learning. As a result, 55 percent of partners reported that they increased their focus on improving foundation math. Why was this focus deemed important by your network, and what did educators gain through this work?

In 2017 100Kin10, alongside thousands of partners, STEM teachers, and other stakeholders, led the creation of the Grand Challenges, an unprecedented map of the 100+ underlying causes of why it’s so hard to get and keep great STEM teachers. As a part of the process, we pinpointed the most influential among the root causes — the “catalysts” — that, if solved, would generate a positive domino-like effect across the entire system of STEM teaching and learning. Recognizing the catalysts as the most strategic levers for change, 100Kin10 is mobilizing our network to address them, including preparing and training elementary teachers who could foster joyful and authentic math learning (referred to as “foundational math” in short-hand).

In their evaluation of 100Kin10’s impact, Bellwether stated that the focus on foundational math “was instrumental in bringing national attention from researchers, educators, funders, and others to the critical importance of joyful, hands-on early math instruction.”

Other ways that the network and educators benefitted from the focus on foundational math include:

  • In 2019, 100Kin10 released a report called “Doing the Math: Building a foundation of joyful and authentic math learning for all students”. One partner told us that, “‘Doing the Math’ is a report we share a lot with schools…getting that report in the hands of district leaders and policy makers is really important, so they can start to think about those areas for early math learning.”
  • 100Kin10 has also supported five collaborative, cross-organizational teams focused on creating solutions for foundational math. These teams have developed recommendations for how to effectively prepare elementary teachers to teach STEM, standards for culturally relevant mathematics practice & inquiry, and tools and resources about how to develop STEM mindsets for elementary teachers.
  • Most recently, in 2021, we released a second report called “Reigniting Joyful, Rigorous, and Equitable Foundational Math Learning”, which shares the results of interviews with math teachers, coaches and interventionists about their experiences supporting low income Black, Latinx, and Native American early learners during 2020.

100kin10 recently launched an  “unCommission” to identify goals for the future of STEM learning. The unCommission centers the voices of young people, especially those who represent groups that have been most excluded from STEM education and careers. Could you tell us more about this effort and how it is informing the network’s future goals? 

In summer 2021, 100Kin10 launched the unCommission to identify 100Kin10’s next moonshot goal by listening to young people. The beating heart of the unCommission is storytelling, seeking out and lifting up the stories and experiences of Black, Latinx, and Native American communities, communities with all the passion and creativity needed to shape the STEM fields and spur our greatest innovations and inventions yet which are, because of racism and exclusion, furthest from the opportunities of STEM education and the STEM workforce.

About 600 storytellers from 38 states bravely shared their testimonials about their STEM experience. What emerged from these stories was a clear call-to-action: young people need teachers who create STEM classrooms of belonging for all students. This theme is exemplified by storyteller Bailey. Guided by this, 100Kin10’s next goal will focus on preparing and retaining an audacious number of excellent STEM teachers who are resourced and supported to foster a sense of belonging, especially for Native American, Latinx, and Black learners. Read more stories here, and see how art captures the essence of what we heard from storytellers.

In 2022, 100Kin10 looks forward to announcing its next moonshot goal while continuing to center the stories, art, and insights from the unCommission.