Efforts to expand STEM and CTE programming announced

Efforts to expand STEM and CTE programming announced

(Tenn.) Gov. Bill Lee announced a new initiative last week to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics training in K-12 schools as part of a larger effort to improve vocational and technical training for Tennessee students.

The new Future Workforce Initiative aims to, among other things, launch new CTE programs focused in STEM fields with 100 new middle school programs and triple the number of STEM-designated public schools by 2022.

Lee’s announcement came just one week after his office announced a different initiative to expand access to CTE by increasing funding for dual enrollment efforts and utilizing regional partnerships to develop work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities.

“Our agenda advocates for increased access to career and technical education for K-12 students and a key part of this includes prioritizing STEM training,” Lee said in a statement. “The Future Workforce Initiative is a direct response to the emerging technology industry and making sure our students are first in line to be qualified for technology jobs.”

Combined, the two initiatives would address a variety of needs. For one, a recent study found that more than one million students across the country do not have access to fundamental STEM courses needed to prepare them for college and in-demand careers.

Researchers at the Foundation for Excellence in Education–a Florida-based nonprofit education reform group–found the problem was exasperated in high-poverty and high-minority schools, which were less likely to even offer Algebra 1, let alone the subsequent progression of math courses expected by many colleges and universities for enrollment.

Meanwhile, completion of dual enrollment programs has been shown to increase high school graduation rates, as well as the likelihood that students earn a college degree–particularly among minority and low-income students, whose families are able avoid at least a portion of skyrocketing tuition costs.

And CTE and similar models such as linked learning have also become increasingly popular as a viable option for developing work readiness skills and preparing future workers for jobs that require some postsecondary education but not necessarily a four-year degree.

Yet as many policymakers have sought to quickly expand access to CTE programs and STEM courses, a shortage of educators who have either the industry experience or the academic content knowledge to teach the appropriate courses has emerged.

Lee’s STEM initiative, which aims to put Tennessee in the top 25 states for job creation in the technology sector within the next three years, includes efforts to grow the number of teachers qualified to teach work-based learning and advanced computer science courses through STEM teacher training and implementation of K-8 computer science standards.

The Future Workforce Initiative also looks to expand postsecondary STEM opportunities in high school through increased access to dual credit, AP courses and dual-enrollment.

The governor said he will recommend a $4 million investment to implement the initiative, noting that “58 percent of all STEM jobs created in the country are in computing but only 8 percent of graduates study computer science in college.”

“By exposing Tennessee students to computer science in their K-12 careers we are ensuring our kids have every chance to land a high-quality job,” Lee said.

Earlier this month, Lee’s office announced the creation of the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education, or GIVE, which seeks to expand access to vocational and technical training for high school juniors and seniors.

In addition to strengthening regional partnerships to develop or expand work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities, the initiative allows communities the flexibility to build programs that best reflect local needs and work directly with private industry to structure programming.

Funding will be provided for high school juniors and seniors to utilize four, fully-funded dual enrollment credits for trade and technical programs–compared to the current two credits.

Lee said at the time of the announcement that he would be recommending competitive grants to fund the program. The grants would go to schools promoting regional partnerships that develop work-based learning and apprenticeships programs, market-driven dual-credit opportunities, and lead to the expansion of industry-informed CTE offerings at local high schools

Additional grant money would be funded via the Tennessee Lottery and support expanded access to dual enrollment.

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