Anyone with even a passing interest in education policy knows about the shortcomings in STEM instruction in U.S. schools. Only 44 percent of high school graduates are prepared for college-level math and just 36 percent are ready for college-level science courses. In turn, these numbers mean that the majority of America's young people will never be in the running for the well-paid STEM jobs that have become such a key part of the U.S. economy. It also means that employers may struggle to fill these jobs.
All this explains the huge push in recent years by funders backing a variety of programs to get kids excited about STEM and give teachers the tools and training they need in the classroom.
A common thread running through the corporate philanthropy in sectors such as engineering and tech is the desire to improve STEM education in public schools, particularly for minorities and women, two traditionally underrepresented demographics in the workforces of those companies.
We wrote recently about the Motorola Solutions Foundation awarding $2.81 million in grants for organizations that give kids practical experience in STEM by learning coding, working with 3-D printing, and more. Facebook announced a $15 million grant this summer to promote computer science education. And Microsoft has consistently renewed funding for its YouthSparks initiative, which seeks to help children around the world develop technology skills.
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The latest corporate funder we've noticed in this area is Texas Instruments (TI), a semiconductor manufacturer and maker of those graphing calculators that have more functions than most of us ever learned how to use. The Texas Instruments Foundation has supported educational and charitable initiatives since 1964, mostly in communities in Texas, California and Maine, where the company operates.
Remember those dismal stats about high school graduates’ readiness for college math and science? A major objective of the TI Foundation is to foster a generation of STEM-capable students through its "Power of STEM Education" (POSE) grant program. In 2016, TI will award $5.4 million, the bulk of which is allocated to teacher training and support and Advanced Placement course prep.
Southern Methodist University received $1.7 million to train over 200 middle school science teachers in Dallas, and a $1.3 million grant to Teach for America will support math and science teachers in the Dallas Independent School District and Uplift Education charter schools. An additional $1.1 million is going to the National Math and Science Initiative to expand its College Readiness Program throughout the Garland Independent School District and in two charter schools.
These initiatives are in keeping with the TI Foundation’s previous grant making, and for good reason: They get results. As we wrote last year, the TI Foundation pumped $2.2 million into efforts to expand the K-12 STEM curriculum to every student in a school district in the Dallas suburb of Lancaster. The focus on STEM education has led to improvements in math and science test scores in a district where more than 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
So while there’s nothing surprising about the trend in STEM companies’ corporate giving philosophies, we’re fine with seeing more of the same if that means positive results. Organizations looking to hop on the STEM grant bus should revisit our tips for eight ways to land K-12 STEM funding, because these approaches have the hot hand with funders for the foreseeable future.