Ensuring that Investments Add Up to Big Improvements in STEM Learning

07/11/2012 09:49 am ET | Updated Sep 10, 2012

Business leaders have raised the alarm that the middling to mediocre performance of American young people in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) will put the nation at a competitive disadvantage and threaten its future prosperity. Businesses have stepped up to the plate, investing many hundreds of millions of dollars in efforts to improve STEM learning. But are they getting the best possible bang for their buck? Many of them think not.

With its new STEMworks Database of effective STEM learning programs, Change the Equation (CTEq) aims to ensure that they do. CTEq is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, CEO-led initiative that mobilizes the business community to improve STEM learning in K-12. STEMworks features only programs that meet CTEq's rigorous and comprehensive Design Principles for Effective STEM Philanthropy.

A team of CTEq member representatives with deep experience in corporate philanthropy created the Design Principles to help program developers and funders alike raise their game by creating, funding and scaling up only those programs that are most likely to make a difference.

The Design Principles set a high bar. All programs in the database were rigorously reviewed by WestEd, an independent non-profit research and development organization. Of the almost 40 invited programs that applied for Phase I, only 20 were admitted.

Funders can search by criteria such as geography, grade level, type of program or target audience to find programs that best suit their priorities. Each program they find will have a profile outlining its particular strengths. Programs that apply to the database receive a confidential review of their strengths and weaknesses -- along with guidance on how they can strengthen their applications if they do not meet the bar.

We aim to expand STEMworks to at least 100 effective programs by the end of 2012. This first phase allowed us to refine the review processes and tools. Later this summer, we will announce an open solicitation for additional programs that want to be considered for inclusion in the database -- so stay tuned! Along the way, we will continue to improve the content and function of the database.

If STEMworks is a success, it will do more than just help funders, including our members, identify and scale up programs worthy of their support. It will engage program developers, reviewers and funders in vigorous conversations about what it means to be effective.

For too long, big investments have not added up to big improvements in STEM learning. We hope the STEMworks Database can help change that equation.