STEM and Workforce Development

By 2020, nearly 55% of our state’s jobs will require a STEM-related college education. However, currently, fewer than 25 percent of high school graduates are able to attain the post-secondary training and credentials required for STEM careers – of which half require less than a four year degree. This gap, among others, have led to Colorado employers spending more than $19 million annually to import talent to fill unmet workforce needs. Clearly, Colorado’s economic future depends on its ability to enact policies and offer programs that produce a future-ready, STEM-literate workforce, and with 16% of our STEM workforce close to retirement, the time to act is now.

We’ve compiled a list of policy and programmatic priorities for Colorado to pursue to prepare more kids for our high- and middle-skill STEM jobs. For each priority we’ve shared national best practices, the relevant work Colorado is currently doing, and additional resources.

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Expanding Career Pathways to Develop Skills in STEM jobs

Career pathways, which include programs like dual/concurrent enrollment and Advanced Placement, provide a clear roadmap to STEM workforce development by enabling students to integrate and connect their education, training, and industry experiences. Colorado stands out as a leader in this area, specifically regarding dual credit options for students.

The Colorado Workforce Development Council (CWDC) heads up this work at the state level, and current efforts include a joint initiative between CWDC and the Colorado Community College System.


Building a Dashboard of Key STEM Indicators & Increasing the Capacity of Teachers and Leaders to Analyze and Apply Data to Classroom Learning

On a national scale, Change the Equation’s Vital Signs provides a state-by-state look at a variety of STEM measures that consider demand, the STEM pipeline, teachers, resources, and recommendations. Colorado is currently working with Change the Equation to design its own dashboard that will take the data collected and shared by state agencies, such as the Colorado Workforce Development Council and Colorado Department of Higher Education, and translate it into something teachers and leaders can understand and better utilize.

Using a Consistent Definition of STEM Across State Agencies

Research confirms that Colorado is a national leader in defining STEM, based on the Brookings’ definition, and applying that definition across its P-20-workforce continuum to ensure clearly articulate pathways for students from school to career.


Implement High Standards in STEM-related Content Areas and Aligned Assessments in Mathematics and Science

Best Practice:
In 2015, Washington passed a bill that called for the development and adoption of Computer Science standards in K-12. The bill prioritizes teacher training as well as underrepresented students. Washington is considering several models as it develops standards, including the Computer Science Teachers’ Association standards and Massachusetts’ Digital Literacy and Computer Science Standards, which are in development.

Best Practice:
Arkansas provides a framework and standards for four computer science courses. Beginning in 2015-16 (enabled by HB1813), all public high schools must offer at least one computer science course. The bill also matches private funding for teacher training and prioritizes investments to reach underrepresented students first.

What is Colorado Doing?
In 2010 Colorado adopted higher mathematics standards through the adoption of both the Common Core State Standards and the Colorado Academic Standards. The math standards are clearer, unrestricted by grade level, and there are fewer of them.
Colorado’s science standards were designed to embed scientific inquiry and scientific process skills. The standards are slated to be revised in 2018, and the state will closely consider rigorous standards used in other states.
Colorado currently does not have P-12 standards in either engineering or technology, however, the community college system has developed standards for Career and Technical Education (CTE), which are aligned to the Colorado Academic Standards.

Other Resources:
Next Generation Science Standards
Kansas’ statewide stakeholder outreach process
West Virginia’s modification of the standards to meet local expectations New York state’s science strategic planning process
Next Generation Science Standards-aligned assessments
AP Computer Science test


Ensure Rigorous and Consistent Graduation Requirements for Mathematics, Science, and Computer Science

Best Practice:
Twenty-six states (not including Colorado) now allow computer science to count toward high school mathematics or science requirements, instead of serving as an elective.

Best Practice:
In Indiana, a state that allows computer science to count towards a math or science graduation requirement, Purdue University increased access to computer science by offering a free introductory programming course to Indiana high school students.

What is Colorado Doing?
In May 2013 the State Board of Education adopted graduation guidelines. The guidelines were based on a compromise that acknowledged Colorado’s history of local control. However, in September 2015, the State Board voted to approve a revised menu of options for school districts that narrow the expectations for student knowledge.

Other Resources:
Allow computer science to count toward high school mathematics or science requirements instead of an elective
Require four unites of science to graduate
Purdue University offers a free introductory programming course to high school students


Recruit and Prepare Educators Who Are STEM Content Experts and Can Help Students Apply STEM Concepts

Best Practice:
UTeach, founded at the University of Texas in Austin, offers candidates an opportunity to explore STEM teaching by simultaneously completing a degree in a STEM field and earning a secondary teaching certification. Candidates are prepared to teach, enter graduate school, or work in the STEM fields. The program has been proven effective and is now being replicated in 23 states, including Colorado.

Best Practice:
In Iowa, a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a partnership between Des Moines Public Schools and Iowa State University infuses engineering design concepts and other critical STEM knowledge and skills training into elementary teacher preparation programs.

What is Colorado Doing?
Colorado has long been challenged to find enough STEM teachers. Over the last five years, Colorado has taken several steps to strengthen its STEM teacher pipeline via:

  • Passing the Educator Effectiveness Bill in 2010, joining the majority of states in developing state measures to annually understand teacher impact across subject areas, including mathematics and science.
  • Participating in national networks such as the 100Kin10 initiative, a multi-sector partnership which seeks to address the national imperative to train 100,000 STEM teachers by 2021.
  • Creation of the Quality Teacher Recruitment Program in 2013. This allowed the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) to award multi-million dollar grants to organizations in partnership with school districts or Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) to recruit, select, train, and retain highly qualified teachers in shortage areas.
  • In 2014, CDE began a process of re-assessing teacher licensure rules in order to create a more streamlined licensing experience. The process includes stakeholder recommendations and public commentary, and is likely to conclude in 2016.
  • The University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado Springs campuses both host CUTeach programs

Other Resources:
Woodrow Wilson STEM Teaching Fellowship
The New Teacher Project Teaching Fellows (*this program existed in Colorado until 2012 due to a lack of funding)
California’s STEM Can Lead the Way report, which examined teacher preparation
Require teacher candidates to pursue subject-specific science certification for secondary teaching
Require a minimum G.P.A. of 3.0 (a minimum bar set by the National Council for Teacher Quality) for prospective teachers to enter preparation programs
The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education recommends that teacher candidates participate in 900 hours (30 weeks) of student-teaching, or at minimum, 45 hours (15 weeks or one semester)


Increase Student Time Spent on Science and Mathematics in the Early Grades

Best Practice:
California’s new accountability system will provide funding incentives for school districts that dedicate more time to science in the early grades. Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have mandated that elementary science be taught for a designated period of time. In OUSD, teachers are required to spend 60 minutes per week on science in grades K-3, and 90 minutes per week on science in grades 4-5. In LAUSD, K-5 teachers are required to teach science an average of 100 minutes a week.

Best Practice:
In Washington’s Bellevue School District, a five-year initiative called “K-5 STEM” is expanding from a successful pilot across three schools to a district-wide effort. “K-5 STEM” exposes students to engineering, design challenges, technology, and coding early, and also provides teachers with professional development. During the pilot, teachers expressing confidence in their STEM abilities jumped from 35 percent to 90 percent by the end of the year.

What is Colorado Doing?
Elementary students in Colorado spend too little time on STEM, particularly on science, engineering, and technology, and are losing ground compared to students in other states. Colorado has made some progress in this area:

  • In 2009, with the Education Accountability Act (SB09-163), the Colorado legislature required districts and schools to submit academic achievement data in both mathematics and science, which are rolled into their performance ratings.
  • In 2009, when the Colorado Academic Standards were adopted, the science subcommittee integrated the skills from the “Building Blocks to the Colorado K-12 Standards” into the now P-12 Colorado Academic science standards. Six preschool science standards were added.
  • Despite the significant push to reduce testing in 2015, Colorado retained its science assessment program, which is administered once in elementary (5th), once in middle (8th) and once in high school (not in 12th), which will incentivize districts and schools to make room for science instruction.

Other Resources:
Iowa’s Pre-K-12 “STEM Scale-Up” programs
Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry’s Science Leadership Initiative
Engineering is Elementary
Massachusetts incorporated a modified version of the Next Generation Science Standards into its Pre-K learning standards, which includes engineering- and technology-focused standards


Provide P-12 Educators Targeted Professional Learning that is Aligned to State Standards, Includes Real-World Application, and is Augmented By Industry Experiences

Best Practice:
Ohio adopted a statewide policy to establish and invest in STEM training centers, including at MC2 STEM, a Cleveland high school with three campuses co-located at GE Lighting at Nela Park, Great Lakes Science Center, and Cleveland State University. Established through a public-private partnership, the school leverages the expertise of professionals on each of its campuses to deliver teacher professional development and student instruction.

Best Practice:
In 2009, Iowa initiated full-time, six-week summer “Teacher Externships” for secondary STEM educators with local businesses and agencies. Teachers build familiarity with 21st century skills and STEM content in real-world settings. They receive a stipend, two days of professional development, and a graduate credit.

What is Colorado Doing?
The Colorado Academic Standards require a more challenging, nuanced instruction for teachers. This means that Colorado districts must provide additional professional development, along with new types of training. As of yet, Colorado has neither invested state resources to assess the current state of standards-aligned professional development nor supported new professional development around the revised Colorado Academic Standards (CAS) in math and science.

However, Colorado is home to the Colorado Experiential STEM Learning Network (CESLN), which promotes action based STEM networking and integration. CESLN’s mission is to collaborate with schools, policymakers, and businesses to create extraordinary STEM experiences for students and teachers.

Other Resources:
Alabama’s Math, Science and Technology Initiative
Tennessee’s STEM Innovation Hubs, established through its STEM Innovation Network
Washington’s STEM-PD
STEMscopes, a digital science solution for PreK through 12th grade students offering three core curriculum programs: STEMscopes K-12, STEMscopes NGSS, and STEMscopes Early Explorer.


Expand the Use of STEM Competencies in P-12

Best Practice:
In 2012, Maine passed a bill which requires local districts to adopt proficiency-based graduation requirements by January 2018. The state has outlined its “proficiency” definitions for public-school courses, learning experiences, and more in its “Maine Learning Results,” which include expectations for cross-disciplinary skills and life-long learning. The Maine Department of Education provides online technical assistance to districts as they make the transition.

Best Practice:
New Hampshire eliminated the Carnegie unit and now requires districts to make graduation decisions based on student attainment of competencies. The state also put a process in place to ensure rigor and consistency across competency determinations statewide. A 2013 study of two New Hampshire high schools that adopted competency based education found significant declines in the dropout and course failure rates.

What is Colorado Doing?
The Colorado Department of Education applies a definition of 21st Century Skills that includes critical thinking, collaboration, and self-direction. These skills, or competencies, are largely embedded in the state’s academic content standards.

STEM-related competencies are best acquired through real-world application in formal school settings, or better yet, outside of the classroom. To that end, Colorado has enacted policies aimed at expanding paid internships with engineering and R&D intensive companies through the “Innovative Industries Workforce Development Program” (HB15-1230). The state has also created industry-driven career pathways that include internship opportunities, and enables apprenticeship programs and internship programs in concurrent enrollment.

For examples of action at the school level, take a look at Adams County School District 50 and St. Vrain Valley School District. Adams County implemented the Re-inventing Schools Coalition (RISC) model, which replaces grades with 10 self-paced learning levels that students work through. The district operates on four beliefs: Learning is the Constant; Time is the Variable; Personalized Delivery; and Systemic and Systematic.

St. Vrain Valley, a recipient of the Race to the Top grant, used the funding to create an Innovation Center where students can apply their knowledge of STEM subjects to real-world projects. Students build apps, create websites, and carry out projects ranging from robotics to biomedical in focus. The Innovation Center partners with industry experts to provide real-world learning opportunities and mentorships for students.

Other Resources:
Kentucky’s Districts of Innovation initiative
New Hampshire’s technical assistance program via the New Hampshire Network
Massachusetts’ efforts to gather industry input
Ohio’s Technical Content Standards


Increase Access and Opportunities for Underrepresented Students in STEM

Best Practice:
California’s Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program enables educationally disadvantaged students to prepare for and graduate from a four- year university with a mathematics-based degree. Unlike Colorado’s MESA program, which focuses primarily on K-12, and some university mentoring, California’s MESA also supports community college students to transfer to 4-year colleges into STEM majors and helps students in 4-year colleges attain computer science and engineering degrees.

Best Practice:
Texas’ T-STEM academies are rigorous secondary schools focused on improving instruction and performance in science and mathematics, with the goal of increasing the number of students who engage in STEM careers. T-STEM schools include a mixture of charter schools, traditional public schools and schools operated in conjunction with an institution of higher education. Academies are non-selective with the majority of their populations being high-need students. Academies also include partnerships with employers for STEM career exposure.

What is Colorado Doing?
Significant achievement and attainment gaps exist across subgroups and there is evidence that the state’s minority and low-income students have less access to some educational opportunities, such as qualified teachers and advanced STEM coursework. Colorado’s MESA program is a bright spot, helping to prepare economically disadvantaged and at risk students who graduate from high school fully prepared for post-secondary education in STEM, business, and other math- and science-based field.

Other Resources:
New York’s Science and Technology Entry Program
Ohio’s 2007 legislation authorizing the creation of STEM schools
The National Society of Black Engineers’ year-round programming
MAES National Latino Organization
American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s programs for pre-college, college, and professional students


Increase Access and Opportunities for Women and Girls in STEM

Best Practice:
The Pennsylvania STEM Initiative partnered with the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) to develop the PA STEM Girls Collaborative Project, which brings together organizations throughout Pennsylvania that are committed to informing and motivating girls to pursue careers in STEM. Project activities are designed to facilitate connections between organizations to maximize access to shared resources.

Best Practice:
In California, the Assembly passed a 2014 resolution to urge the development of summer camps, workshops, and after school programs. The resolution also called for promoting female students and workers in the STEM fields and encouraging women to get involved in the STEM fields.

What is Colorado Doing?
Women lag behind in STEM in Colorado and the state continues to struggle with closing gender gaps in STEM. Women make up 49 percent of Colorado’s college-age population and have obtained over half of the college degrees. However, they only earn about a third of the STEM degrees and only hold 29 percent of STEM jobs. The Colorado Women’s Foundation, in partnership with Colorado Succeeds and other groups, is actively engaged in policy and advocacy efforts to address gender inequities in STEM.

Continue to Build Capacity in Colorado’s Rural School Districts

Best Practice:
Ohio’s Appalachian Collaborative (OAC) is a collaborative of 21 rural districts focused on ensuring all its students graduate ready to succeed in college and careers. The districts focus on six areas of improvement: enhancing teacher quality; enhancing leadership quality; engaging the community; redesigning learning opportunities; recognizing excellence; and using data to inform practice. The OAC has increased the number of students enrolled in dual enrollment courses by 186% and served over 1,200 educators with professional development learning modules.

Best Practice:
Using funds from Race to the Top, Florida developed the FloridaLearns STEM Scholars Program, which serves gifted high school students who live in one of three rural areas of the state. Students chosen to participate are paired with mentors and receive intensive hands-on experiences with STEM professionals, rigorous courses during the school year, leadership training, and opportunities to collaborate with other advanced students.

What is Colorado Doing?
Over 75 percent of Colorado’s school districts are classified as rural. However, only 20 percent of the state’s student population attends these schools, making it a sometimes overlooked population.

Colorado has taken several steps to support rural students and educators:

  • A rural needs study commissioned by CDE in 2011 led then Commissioner Robert Hammond to establish the Rural Education Council. The council oversees, supports, conducts research, and advocates for the needs of rural districts. Although the activities of this council have been limited, it can provide a platform for further efforts to support rural districts.
  • Colorado has significantly impacted its rural districts via statewide concurrent enrollment efforts. According to the most recent concurrent enrollment study, rural schools have taken the most advantage of concurrent enrollment opportunities.
  • In 2014 and 2015, the Colorado legislature passed two bills to support rural districts; one created the Advanced Placement (AP) Incentives program, which provided financial support to rural districts and teachers for student participation in AP programs, and the other provided limited one-time per-student funds for rural districts to create financial margin.
  • The Student Success and Academic Affairs division of DHE focused on recruiting and retaining rural educators throughout 2015. Through strategic collaboration with local organizations such as BOCES and CASPA, educator preparation stakeholders sought to develop strategies to connect emerging educators to rural districts around the state. It is hoped that stronger pipelines connecting educators and these rural districts will result in a more robust and stable educator workforce in all regions of the state.

Other Resources:
Tennessee STEM Innovation Network rural hub

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