STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and encompasses all of the subjects that fall beneath those umbrella categories. Although STEM education affects all aspects of society, the last two decades have seen an overall decline of student interest in STEM subjects in the United States. STEM is a pivotal part of our economy, and it is important that today’s students become tomorrow’s STEM leaders. Each state has responded to the growing disinterest in STEM subjects in their own way. The state of Texas has enacted several initiatives to improve the quality of STEM education, further engage students, and inspire future generations of STEM professionals.
The Texas High School Project is an initiative to improve the quality of education in Texas by working with students in low-performing schools to rigorously prepare them for post-secondary education. The Project joins the public school system with private partners to fund various initiatives to enrich the education of Texas Students. One such initiative is the T-STEM (Texas-STEM) Network, a statewide collective of high schools, colleges, and education centers, and businesses dedicated to providing students with access to resources that promote STEM awareness. An Electronic Learning Community allows teachers to continue their professional development as STEM educators and students to share knowledge with one another and help each other learn.
T-STEM Academies/T-STEM Centers
T-STEM Academies are secondary schools that focus on rigorous STEM education to increase the number of students who enter STEM careers. They are similar to charter schools insofar as they receive both private and public funding for qualifying as exemplars of innovative STEM education. Like charter schools, they hold lotteries for admission and target students in high-needs areas. There are 20 T-STEM Academies that serve grades 9-12, and 31 that serve grades 6-12. They are distinguished by their commitment to STEM education, the professional development of their teachers, and the performance of their students.
T-STEM Centers, on the other hand, are partnerships between universities, education agencies, businesses, and other organizations. These centers provide quality professional development and instructional materials to those educators who teach in T-STEM Academies.
UTeach began at the University of Texas at Austin as a preparation program for STEM teachers. The program is unique in its collaboration of the University’s College of Natural Sciences and the College of Education. A teacher pursuing an advanced degree through the UTeach program essentially receives a completely rounded education that immerses them both in STEM and in teacher education. UTeach was so successful that it spawned a nationwide network of similar programs, the UTeach Institute. The T-STEM Pre-Service Program is a Texas initiative that provides funding to colleges that successfully replicate the UTeach method of integrating STEM and teacher education. There are an estimated 800 teachers in Texas who will graduate from a T-STEM Pre-Service Program by 2017.
The Science Teachers Association of Texas (STAT) is the state’s branch of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). STAT is a statewide network of teachers and administrators at all levels of education—from elementary school through college. The organization seeks to unify science educators through professional development so that all teachers are well versed in the most current methods of and advancements in STEM education.
The Texas Science Education Leadership Association (TSELA) is an associated group of the NSTA, and serves as a professional network of science teachers. TSELA provides a way for science teachers to communicate, share their knowledge, develop professionally, and grow as leaders of STEM education. Through this collaboration, TSELA seeks to improve the quality of science instruction in Texas with the hopes that more students will pursue an interest in STEM subjects to the fullest extent.