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How to Count to 100,000 STEM Teachers in 10 Years

Talia Milgrom-Elcott is building a coalition of the willing, an army devoted to bringing thousands of educators to the classroom

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On January 25, 2011, President Obama set a clear goal in his State of the Union Address regarding STEM education. “Over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms,” he said, “we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.”

One group was already in the process of delivering on the president’s call to action. By June of that year, representatives from 28 organizations—including corporations, foundations, museums, school districts, universities and nonprofits—took to the stage at a Clinton Global Initiative meeting in Chicago. There, the group of partners officially kicked off 100Kin10, a movement to meet the ambitious challenge, with an initial pledge of $20 million.

Talia Milgrom-Elcott, a program officer in urban education at Carnegie Corporation of New York, where 100Kin10 is housed, is co-leader of the project, which has since grown to include more than 150 partners, ranging from Sesame Street to NASA, and the Girl Scouts to Google. She believes that the key to training and retaining superb STEM teachers is to have organizations, in a wide range of fields, contribute to the cause in ways that they are uniquely suited to do so. For a company like Intel, that means developing online instruction for teachers. And, for GOOD magazine, it is committing to featuring bi-weekly stories on its website about the efforts of 100Kin10 partners.

“Truly, almost any of us—and right now it is at the organization level, but we hope that as we grow this, at some point it can be at the individual level as well—can look at what we do well, find a bridge between what we do and this need, and do something that is critical to hitting the goal,” says Milgrom-Elcott.

Everyone is talking about the shortage of STEM teachers. How would you describe the crisis we are in?

What we have seen around the country is that even in districts that are laying teachers off or that have hiring freezes, STEM teachers remain in high demand. When we talk to partners, like the associations of physics teachers or chemistry teachers, they can’t place their teachers fast enough. We talked to districts that are hiring, and they can’t hire enough of these teachers.

Can you take us back to the beginning? How did you launch this movement?

In September 2010, the president’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology put out a report. That report listed a few things that really needed to happen for the country to accelerate STEM learning for all students. The lynchpin of the report was this call for 100,000 excellent STEM teachers. The report was nonpartisan; many economists, some business folks and some academics put together this recommendation. The president, in early October 2010, followed up with a call for 10,000 teachers in two years. 

We heard that call and thought, well, here is an urgent and critical call for action by the president—and it is doable. This is something that we can and should do.

We thought here is an opportunity to try to map out a different way of doing business. Can we bring together a diverse array of organizations, all of who might have something to contribute to this goal, and move them to action? We brought together 28 organizations, ranging from corporations and foundations, universities and school districts, to museums, federal agencies and nonprofits. We met in January, the day after the president’s State of the Union. He literally spoke the night before, and this group came together that next morning.

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