Strong advocates are well informed about important policy conversations, understand how specific policies impact their missions, and have expertise and ideas for how policy can be best implemented. Whether you are looking to impact policy on the local, state, or federal level, the Afterschool STEM Hub aims to be a resource to help navigate that terrain.
Policies that are closely aligned to our current best understanding of how people come to care about and pursue STEM learning will make the deepest and most sustainable impact. As you develop new policies or take a critical eye to existing legislation, use these research-based recommendations as a guidepost.
1. Are there enough high-quality afterschool and summer STEM programs for those who need it the most?
There is a huge level of unmet need for afterschool programs in general—we need those programs to exist for afterschool STEM to happen. Fully funding federal programs that support afterschool and summer learning, as well as ensuring that community-based organizations are eligible partners for federal and state grants is a solid place to start.
2. Are there incentives to design programs that are strongly linked to positive learning outcomes?
The research is clear on what productive out-of-school time STEM programs look like: (1) They are intellectually and emotionally engaging, (2) build on young people's prior interests and cultural resources, and (3) actively make connections across learning opportunities.
3. Is there a sustainable system in place to support a new corps of afterschool and summer STEM educators?
In expanding access, we will need more educators who can facilitate high-quality STEM programming. It's important to identify opportunities to build bridges between formal, informal, and afterschool institutions and educators in ways that will benefit young people by building continuity and coherence across systems.
4. Are we expanding knowledge on how best to support STEM learning?
Investments in an ambitious afterschool and summer STEM research agenda are required to better understand and document how STEM learning occurs across diverse setting, and over time, for a wide range of young people.
Find more specific ideas here: Evidence to Policy: The Case for STEM in Afterschool.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has taken a few actions that shed light on their position on STEM education. These actions serve as guiding principles for how federal agencies, such as the Department of Education and Department of Labor, will prioritize their resources. Congress does not contribute to the articulation of these priorities.
On September 25, 2017, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum, "Increasing Access to High-Quality Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education," acknowledging that too many kids lack access to high-quality STEM and computer science (CS) education opportunities. The memo directs the Department of Education to prioritize STEM education efforts in federal grant making, with particular emphasis on CS. To this end, the Secretary of Education is directed to reallocate at least $200 million of existing funds each year toward CS and STEM education and teacher recruitment and training, beginning in FY18. Read more about the memorandum here. While the Trump administration proposed their own budgetary recommendations to meet this funding goal, Congress had a different plan for their FY18 agreement. It remains to be seen how the $200 million commitment will be met.
On June 15, 2017, the administration released a Presidential Executive Order on Expanding Apprenticeships in America, which states that it is "the policy of the federal government to provide more affordable pathways to secure, high-paying jobs by promoting apprenticeships and effective workforce development programs, while easing the regulatory burden on such programs and reducing or eliminating taxpayer support for ineffective workforce development programs." Among its provisions, it establishes the Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion within the Department of Labor, which includes a subcommittee looking into opportunities in the middle school grade ranch and mechanisms for engaging all relevant stakeholders, including families, parent-teacher associations, informal educators, etc. The subcommittees will be provide recommendations to the full taskforce.
On March 2, 2018 the agency released their 11 final priorities, along with a discussion of the feedback received during a public commenting period. Priority 6 is "promoting STEM education, with a particular focus on computer science." The department did not agree to a request that the priority explicitly mention out-of-school settings (e.g., before school, after school, summer) as an opportunity to engage students in STEM and computer science, and notes "… nothing in Priority 6 precludes STEM and computer science teaching and learning during out-of-school time or that focuses on CTE."
As of 2015, the ESSA is our national K-12 education law, which provides guidelines for how states may use federal dollars to support education programs, and offers multiple funding streams that states and districts can employ to support improvements in STEM education. Three Titles in particular are very important for afterschool and summer learning:
· Title I, which focuses on providing supplemental funds to schools in poverty and assisting children of low-income communities
· Title II, which aims to increase the effectiveness of educators throughout their teaching career
· Title IV, which includes both the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAE) in Part A and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21CCLC) initiative in Part B
Take the next steps
ESSA provides tremendous opportunity to elevate the importance of afterschool and summer learning programs with key audiences and secure additional out-of-school time resources. Understand which parts of the law have the most potential to support afterschool STEM learning; often, school administrators and even state legislators need to be reminded of the specifics on how federal dollars can be used and leveraged. Advocate for your state or district to take advantages of those allowances in their education plans and during implementation.
Perkins CTE is the principle source of federal funding to states to improve secondary and postsecondary career and technical education and to fully support the academic, career, and technical skills of secondary and postsecondary students who elect to enroll in career and technical education programs. The current law allows supports to serve students in the 7th grade and above, and many states use early exposure to careers and job pathways in middle grades as a key component of their CTE programs. This exploration as well as direct workforce training occurs in afterschool and summer programs across the nation.
Take the next steps
CTE funds at the state level are largely spent on supports dedicated to formal learning. However, the current Perkins CTE law does not explicitly prohibit the use of funds or resources in afterschool and summer programs, or exclude community-based organizations from serving as eligible entities and partners. Use this knowledge to educate CTE stakeholders that Perkins funds can be used to support career exploration and workforce development in afterschool and summer programs.
Many federal policies play important and complementary roles in shaping the nation's education system, in addition to ESSA and Perkins CTE (described previously). The Higher Education Act (HEA) establishes important postsecondary student financial aid programs, provides systems for early identification and support for secondary students’ transition to postsecondary opportunities, dictates funding streams for institutions of higher education, and establishes oversight for K-12 teacher preparation programs and quality teacher training. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) provides federal funding for the education of children with disabilities while also serving as a civil rights statute protecting the rights of parents and children with disabilities. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funds the matching of labor market needs with education, training, and support services for youth and adults looking for meaningful employment, as well as adult education, and literacy activities for out-of-school youth and adults who lack a high school diploma or proficiency in English. Other laws and regulations, like the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA) set regulations and requirements for federally funded research, including that on the STEM education, can also affect opportunities for education stakeholders. All of policies influence state and local education strategies and have the potential touch afterschool and summer learning programs.
Take the next steps
ESSA, IDEA, Perkins, HEA, WIOA, and other policies and regulations can all support a rich STEM learning ecosystem that provides individuals with the academic, technical, and employability skills they need to be successful in their futures. An understanding of how each of these policies impact the education system is useful when thinking about innovative ways to support 21st century skills development, postsecondary education preparedness, and a career-ready workforce.
The state of play is always changing--for the latest policy and advocacy updates, check out these newsletters, blogs, websites:
A position statement from the Afterschool STEM Hub
A set of research-based policy recommendations