INTRODUCTION

Throughout the past decade, many state leaders have continued to push science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as a curriculum centerpiece. In 2011, Governor Mike Beebe launched STEM Works, a statewide initiative of his Workforce Cabinet created to transform schools and use STEM to increase the number of high-skilled workers and spur economic development. Governor Asa Hutchinson has announced a Computer Science Task Force to develop instruction that will prepare students to become the skilled computer science and technology talent the state needs to succeed in a global marketplace.

The economic argument for STEM education is not merely theoretical. Employers and other business leaders have plainly stated that they are looking for STEM-related knowledge and proficiency in job candidates and are not finding it. Numbers support their claims: in Arkansas, there are 2.4 STEM jobs available for every unemployed person. In the Little Rock metropolitan area alone, there are an estimated 61,510 STEM jobsmany of which do not require a Ph.D. or Master’s degree. Unless Arkansas produces, attracts, and retains qualified STEM professionals, employers will move to other states out of necessity. And Arkansans know that the time to stem the outflow of opportunity is now. 

As STEM Works and the more recent Computer Science Task Force reflect, there is growing momentum around STEM education. But another story has unfolded with less fanfare than with these big state programs, and it is a story of exceptional success—the specific cases in which Arkansas students and schools have really thrived in STEM subjects. 

We need a working knowledge of STEM-instruction Bright Spots to guide us as we prepare a future workforce that closes Arkansas's jobs-skills gap. That is why What's Working in STEM Education in Arkansas is principally concerned with what is working.

How have teachers and administrators successfully carried out Arkansas leaders’ visions for STEM? What particular schools and programs have led the way, demonstrating the effective ways our education system can prepare students for the 21st century workforce? 

The time is ripe for sharing effective models, practices, and approaches to learn how to create a brighter future for Arkansas. Whether you are an educator, advocate, policymaker, or concerned citizen, clearly seeing what works in STEM education is a first step toward transforming Arkansas’s economic future. 

We are excited to share eight Arkansas Bright Spots in STEM education. Take note of the figures that accompany the descriptions below–they are hard proof that these schools and initiatives are making progress.

 

THE BRIGHT SPOTS

1. Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science, and the Arts (ASMSA) – Residential High School Instruction

 

This public residential high school located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, is designed for gifted students with an interest in science and mathematics. One of only 16 residential science and math high schools in the country, ASMSA has long served as an instructional model for many STEM schools and programs in the state.

Since 1993, more than 2,000 graduates from ASMSA have been awarded more than $166 million in college scholarships.

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2. FIRST® Robotics – Out-of-School Instruction

A widely popular out-of-school program, FIRST® Robotics inspires youth ages 6 to 18 to learn and apply STEM principles through the fun of robotics as well as friendly competition. 

Two out of every five Fortune 500 companies support FIRST, and 10 percent of the MIT’s class of 2013 were FIRST® Robotics Alumni.

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3. STEM Centers – Teacher Preparation

Composed of university-based STEM Centers, this Arkansas network serves as a valuable training resource for math and science teachers at the elementary and secondary level. Each STEM Center features a specialist and offers ongoing professional development to teachers so they can effectively deliver engaging STEM-related instruction.

Twelve university-based STEM Centers throughout Arkansas offer year-round mentorship and training sessions in math and science to K–12 teachers.

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4. University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff STEM Scholars Academy – Post-Secondary STEM Education

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, a historically black college, has become one of the region’s leading STEM institutions. Its STEM Scholars Academy is helping expand the number of Arkansas students with STEM degrees and certificates, particularly for women and students of color. 

In the past 10 years, the average retention rate of the STEM Scholars Academy has been 83 percent; in 2013, 70 percent of its students came from Arkansas high schools. 

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5. Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST)
In-School Learning Laboratories

The Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) Initiative, a school-within-a-school STEM program, began as one classroom in Greenbrier, Arkansas, in 1996. More than 20 years later, EAST now serves 220 schools in five states. EAST students work in teams and use technology, creativity, and the STEM-based knowledge they acquire to solve problems they see in their communities. 

In 2010, EAST students in Arkansas completed 1.5 million service hours with an economic impact in the state of more than $15 million.

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6. New Tech Network – Classroom 2.0

Active in 150 schools across 26 states, the New Tech Network is a national nonprofit school development organization that began working with a pilot group of Arkansas school districts in 2012. New Tech schools emphasize project-based, hands-on learning and teaching 21st century skills. Personal computers and other technology also play a prominent role in the New Tech classroom. 

Cross County High School, a New Tech school, reported a significant increase in students’ ACT scores, for which it won a 2012 College Readiness Award from the Arkansas ACT Council.

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7. UTeach – Building a STEM-Teacher Pipeline

A national teacher recruitment and training program, Arkansas has implemented UTeach to strengthen the STEM pipeline at the college level and improve the quality of K–12 STEM education. Three Arkansas universities are recruiting incoming freshmen and offering them attractive incentives like early field experiences and the opportunity to study under veteran master teachers. 

Nationally, 87 percent of UTeach graduates enter teaching. An overwhelming majority of them are certified to teach math, science, or other STEM subjects.

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8. Project Lead the Way Aligning Public School Education with Opportunities in STEM

Project Lead the Way (PLTW) is a national program that offers practical training to middle and high school students interested in engineering, biomedical sciences, and other STEM-related subjects. Active at 20 Arkansas sites, PLTW is putting students on track toward college degrees and technical certificates in STEM fields.

Across the U.S,, 80 percent of PLTW seniors say they will study engineering, technology, or computer science in college, compared to a national average of 32 percent.

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