Carnegie's 100Kin10 is the Superfriends of Science Education (Sort of)

In January 2011, President Obama issued a challenge in his State of the Union Address to get the faltering country back up to speed on STEM education, calling for 100,000 quality teachers in the next 10 years. As then-Carnegie program officer Talia Milgrom-Elcott retells it, a group of 28 organizations met the next morning and the now-massive partnership 100Kin10 was on its way into existence. 

Fast forward to today, and the Carnegie-led organization now has more than 150 partner organizations, including universities, foundation, corporations, school districts, media outlets and science centers, has been touted by Presidents Clinton and Obama, and has drawn pledges of more than $52 million. Carnegie remains the biggest funder, with $5.4 million committed so far, but the organization has blown away its initial fundraising goals, with 26 funders directing support toward the work of 100Kin10 partner organizations.

Big numbers, right? But what exactly is 100Kin10? As with many of these philanthropic endeavors, it’s not always easy to sift through the buzzwords to figure that out. But the essence of 100Kin10 is partnership. The organization was founded with the intent of simply aligning a massive array of very different stakeholders to commit to fixing the widely accepted shortage of STEM teachers and future professionals in the country. 

Many philanthropic efforts, most notoriously at Gates, use a heavily top-down approach to education, taking a particular ideology or strategy and wielding its financial influence to enact it. But not so with Carnegie’s 100Kin10.

Carnegie and co-founder The Opportunity Equation based the initiative on the idea that interested parties across the spectrum can probably share some pretty good ideas, and offer their own services toward a shared goal. The only real directive, as you might expect, is that partners must commit to creation of 100,000 excellent STEM teachers by 2021, by pursing the training of teachers, retention of teachers, and building of a movement. This coalition is explicitly bottom-up, relying on the fact that the partners know what they’re doing and how they can best help.

So 100Kin10 isn’t much of a tangible, central entity, more like a federation with a common goal, each member flexing its own muscle to get there, and taking advantage of shared research, funding and occasional convenings. It’s like The Avengers, or Superfriends, or the Justice League of science education. (To be clear, it’s not like these things at all, but it’s kind of fun to think of it like that.) 

The funding part, however, is very tangible. Carnegie has not only given a lot of its own support, it’s coordinating fundraising efforts to build a huge bankroll. Funders who join commit a minimum of $500,000 over three years to back any of the 150+ partners in the group. The funders ultimately have control over who they give money to, and can plot amongst each other to decide. 

Examples of such partners’ projects include The American Museum of Natural History, which is using its facilities and staff to train a group of teachers in house, with the idea that such a model can be implemented at all kinds of science centers nationwide. Or, a web startup that allows teachers to propose Kickstarter-ish STEM education projects, which anyone can then back online. Or partner GOOD magazine is committing to write bi-weekly articles about STEM initiatives.

Sign me up, you say? Not so fast. The Avengers is a pretty exclusive club. First you must be nominated by another partner in 100Kin10 (which I just noticed in some fonts, reads like “Lookinio”). Then you need to apply. Then you have to pass a rigorous vetting process conducted by the University of Chicago. But you can always throw your hat in the ring for consideration at