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How afterschool STEM fared in ESSA

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How afterschool STEM fared in ESSA

It seems hard to believe, but we actually have a new education law of the land! The law formerly known as No Child Left Behind is now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and afterschool fared very well in this new law. See this blog for details on how afterschool fared generally.

As was the case for so many interests addressed in the bill, the news for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education was generally mixed. The only STEM-specific program administered by the Department of Education—the Math Science Partnership program—was eliminated. The revisions to Title II of the law—which address teacher and educator professional development and where the Math Science Partnership program used to be—leave many of the decisions related to how to support teachers and which teachers to support to state decision makers. 

In the good STEM news column, the new law retains math and science assessment requirements. In addition, states can compete for funds to support STEM educators and establish a STEM Master Teacher Corps. A new “well-rounded education subjects” definition adds engineering and computer science, getting all of the STEM disciplines recognized. (The STEM Education Coalition has done a detailed analysis highlighting the major STEM provisions in each section of ESSA.)

In addition to these wins within STEM-specific pieces, the language for the 21CCLC program encourages STEM-centric programming. While we all know that afterschool is fertile ground for growing interest in STEM subjects, and there are incredible programs doing tremendous work, these tweaks will make it easier for programs to consider STEM programming going forward. There are some provisions in a new Title IV program—the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants—that allow local education authorities (LEAs) to use these funds to support afterschool and STEM programming as well.  Put simply, there are more opportunities for STEM and afterschool across the new law, but fewer pots of dedicated funds for STEM-specific activities. That means that state and local education leaders will control how federal funds are spent in a way that they do not currently. 

Want to get into the complexities of some of the provisions? Here goes…There’s a new program in Title IV. Sec. 4104 (State Uses of Funds) of that Title and Sec 4107 (Activities to Support Well Rounded Educational Activities) direct districts receiving more than $30,000 in federal funds under the new program to spend at least 20 percent of their funding on “well-rounded” educational activities which include a focus on improving instruction and student engagement in STEM by expanding high-quality STEM courses; increasing access to STEM for underserved and at risk student populations; supporting the participation of students in STEM nonprofit competitions (such as robotics, science research, invention, mathematics, computer science, and technology competitions); providing hands-on learning opportunities in STEM; integrating other academic subjects, including the arts, into STEM subject programs; creating or enhancing STEM specialty schools; integrating classroom based and afterschool and informal STEM instruction and expanding courses in environmental education.

The bill language asks LEA applications to include descriptions of partnerships they will undertake with non-profit organizations and CBOs. It also directs LEAs that receive funding under this scheme to use a portion of the funds to develop and implement programs and activities that support access to a well-rounded education that are coordinated with schools and CBOs, makes non-profits and CBOs eligible to be partners, improve instruction and student engagement in STEM (including computer science) to under-represented populations through competitions, hands-on learning and exposure to STEM via service learning projects, and facilitate collaboration among school, afterschool programs, and informal program personnel to improve the integration of programming and instruction in STEM. This is great news for afterschool program providers who are already doing great work in STEM, or are considering it.

There’s still much detail to be reviewed in the new bill, and the Department of Education is rumored to be pulling together a timeline for transitioning to the new law in coming weeks. 2016-2017 will be the transition year for schools and programs.  There will be guidance in the form of regulations from the Department before then. The Afterschool Alliance will also be hosting a series of webinars in winter 2016 to discuss what the bill means for afterschool and afterschool STEM. Stay tuned.  

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