U.S. Dept. of Ed Grant Priorities Push School Choice Plus STEM

The Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education is taking public comments on her proposed priorities for $700 million in discretionary grants the agency will issue annually in the coming years.

Although many of the priorities focus on Betsy DeVos' flagship interest, school choice, the promotion of STEM education — and particularly computer science — also makes an appearance in the list.

The availability of these grants allows DeVos to show her vision for American education, just as former Secretary Arne Duncan did in 2014. Once they're finalized, they'll replace his list.

Priority 6, "Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education, with a Particular Focus on Computer Science," alluded to poor PISA scores in math and science literacy, which could put the country's "economic competitiveness ... at risk because of a shortage of STEM talent." The priority is to "expand the capacity of our elementary and secondary schools to provide all students, including girls, students of color and others historically underrepresented in STEM fields, with engaging and meaningful opportunities, both in and outside the classroom, to develop knowledge and competencies in these subjects."

The department would address this by seeking projects to increase the number of educators ready to teach STEM, including computer science; supporting mastery of "key prerequisites," such as algebra, the use of computer applications and coding skills; promoting public-private partnerships to give students STEM work experiences; using tech "to provide access to educational choice"; promoting post-secondary programs that lead to STEM credentials; and pushing open educational resources to bring down the cost of study materials.

Other areas of focus for funding would cover promotion of literacy; battling bullying and meeting the needs of students with disabilities.

Overall, the department stated, the new priorities "are designed to encourage grantees to empower parents and educators; reduce red tape; utilize and build evidence of what works; and, most importantly, take strides toward ensuring equal access to the high-quality, affordable education every American student deserves in an educational environment that is safe and respectful of all viewpoints and backgrounds."

However, the list is broad. As Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank, told Politico's Morning Education, the priorities represent "almost every idea in American education, good or bad." While the reach provides the secretary "maximum flexibility," at some point, the agency will need to get selective, he added, "because if everything and everyone is a priority than nothing and no one is."

Currently, the agency is taking comments on the list of priorities. That ends on November 13, 2017. The document is available on the Federal Register.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.