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Five Questions: Talia Milgrom-Elcott on STEM Teacher Recruitment

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Interview conducted and edited by Emily Richmond

Talia Milgrom-Elcott is a program officer in urban education with Carnegie Corporation of New York. She spoke with EWA about the new “100Kin10” initiative to add 100,000 “excellent” Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics teachers to public school classrooms in the next 10 years.

1. Why has Carnegie chosen to make STEM teacher recruitment a priority?

This effort has enormous ambition to tackle a problem that’s gone on for decades. We really haven’t mobilized around this issue since Sputnik – and then it was only for a small sliver of the population.

What we have here is a national problem that is huge in scope, and at the same time far too local for one central office – in New York or anywhere else – to solve on its own.

In thinking about how to design such an effort, we were cognizant that you can’t throw 100,000 teachers into a broken system and let them fall out the other end. We’re taking a multiprong approach that invites organizations to make commitments to action in one of three areas: recruiting and preparing new STEM teachers, supporting them in their classrooms so that they stay, and building the movement by raising public awareness of the critical need for science and math education and by providing funds, by providing a much-needed R&D capacity, among other commitments.

2. What makes this effort different from other attempts to bring organizations together to solve a pressing educational problem?

This is a very different model. First off, we are mobilizing an expanding, multisector group of organizations to strategically apply its collective assets in a coordinated way to solve this complex, national problem.

Secondly, we are doing this by creating an “enlightened marketplace” that doesn’t rely on any centralized entity having all the answers to complex questions related to teacher preparation or local demand for STEM talent. Instead, funders with their own expertise can identify and partner with pre-vetted organizations with deep knowledge of local, statewide and national needs.

In the spirit of best-in-class innovation, we’re leveraging the collective strengths of our partners to also build the movement as we go along. In some respects we’re building the plane while flying it and believe this flexibility will bring about the kind of collaborative expertise and innovations that not only advance STEM learning, but the entire field of education as well.

3. How will you be tracking results?

Before being approved for participation, each potential participant had to meet specific criteria developed by the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute. It’s a rigorous process, and so far only about half of the applicants have been approved. 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. 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.

4. What can you expect to know in such a relatively short time period?

In six months, we will have leading indicators of how this is coming together–where are the innovations happening? Who are the partners? After a year we’ll have case studies, not necessarily to adopt a particular approach but to help adapt best practices. If you create a continuous feedback loop, people can leapfrog ahead, building off of what others are already doing instead of recreating on a parallel path what’s already been done successfully.  We should be constantly raising the floor for everyone based on the best of what’s happening everywhere.

5. What should education reporters and writers be watching for as this initiative progresses?

You should be looking for an increase in the number of organizations that see themselves as capable and willing to make the commitment. We currently have 80 participants, including the funders, and we have set a goal of topping 100 by January. We want diversity in the funders as well as the partners doing the work. Right now we have federal agencies, corporations, museums, nonprofits, state governors and superintendents, and local districts, some others. I’d encourage education reporters to look and see if their own governors and districts have signed on to the initiative. If they haven’t yet, I hope someone encourages them to assess their resources, look at the need in their area, and map the boldest, most effective solution that they can muster to attack the challenge of 100Kin10.