Blog: The Educated Reporter

STEM Has A (Facebook) Friend In ‘Arne’

From the start, part of Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s public persona has been to make good use of his folksy charm.The sleeves rolled up, the casual references to his diverse childhood and adolescence experiences growing up in Chicago — it works.It’s still a little disconcerting to read on the U.S.Department of Education’s web site about “Arne” answering questions posed on his Facebook page by “Laura” and “Nils.” It feels a little bit like a shout-out to the fan club presidents. What’s next? Davy Jones will sing at the prom? Yes, that Brady Bunch reference dates me, alas (although I watched it in reruns, OK?).

However, that doesn’t mean Duncan’s approach isn’t an effective one, or inappropriate for this day and age of instant and constant information. To be sure, it seems as though he’s visibly engaged with the people actually doing the daily business of schooling, rather than simply engaging in policy discussions with the decision makers. I respect that.

As for that Facebook discussion, Nils’ comment was that we need to give successes in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) the same rousing reception we typically reserve for athletic accomplishments. Duncan agreed, and pointed to a new federal initiative to add 100,000 highly qualified and effective STEM teachers to public schools in the next 10 years.

I recently had the chance to talk to Talia Milgrom-Elcott, an urban education program officer at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, about their support of that initiative. Carnegie is calling it 100Kin10, and their outreach to public and private partners is well underway. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the Carnegie program is the involvement of the University of Chicago.

As Milgrom-Elcott told me, the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute is vetting potential participants to make sure they meet specific and rigorous criteria. So far only about half of the applicants have been approved, and Carnegie expects to meet its first goal of 100 partners by January.

“The university has also developed an entire research apparatus that it will deploy to drive learning for the participating organizations and the effort as a whole,” Milgrom-Elcott said. “Not only will those groups have access to the research experts, but in turn the researchers will be learning from our partners. We don’t want to wait five years to find out if this is working. We want to know what is working, and why, as soon as we can, and push that out to partners so that they can improve their practice and adapt new solutions from each other.”