The Appalachia Partnership Initiative's Investments in K–12 Education and Catalyzing the Community

Reflections from 2014 Through 2017

by Gabriella C. Gonzalez, Shelly Culbertson, Nupur Nanda

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Research Questions

  1. How did the API K–12 STEM education programs and activities evolve and adapt to meet the API's vision and strategy?
  2. What was the geographic scope of API K–12 STEM education programs, and which beneficiaries did the programs reach?
  3. How were API K–12 STEM education programs implemented? How sustainable were these programs?
  4. What steps did API leadership take to catalyze a community of stakeholders to work toward similar goals related to K–12 STEM education?

The growth in energy production in the tristate Appalachia region (southwestern Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, and eastern Ohio) has spurred a demand for hiring workers proficient in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This has created a focus on the importance of having high-quality K–12 STEM education in the tristate region, as well as on policies and programs to enable the supply of labor in STEM occupations and career fields to keep pace with evolving demand.

A challenge in the region is that the supply of workers with STEM skills has not kept pace with STEM workforce demand, which limits the region's capacity to benefit from national and global economic advances.

Recognizing the workforce and education challenges facing the energy and advanced manufacturing industries in the region, the Appalachia Partnership Initiative (API) was launched in 2014 and is committed to investing $20 million to support K–12 STEM education and STEM workforce development programs to educate and train local adult workers.

The RAND Corporation serves as the external research and analysis lead for the API, and, in this report, researchers assessed the API's progress from October 2014 to December 2017 in its investments in K–12 STEM education and initiatives related to catalyzing the community.

Key Findings

  • K–12 education activities and initiatives are reaching many students that the API hoped to reach: From October 2014 to December 2017, program administrators reported that 48 percent of K–12 students reached by the programs were low income, 47 percent were girls, and 42 percent attended school in rural communities.
  • Strategies to promote financial and programmatic sustainability included maintaining low program costs, finding other revenue streams, writing services into grants, charging for services when possible, and applying for additional funding from other funding sources. Some program administrators, however, believed they would not be able to continue if their current funding stopped unless they found another source of funding.
  • Teacher professional development was a key aspect of API investment. From October 2014 to December 2017, 2,225 teachers received training by API-funded programs. Training included informal education, project-based education, collaboration with businesses, and implementing STEM curricula. Challenges in offering teacher professional development included enough time out of the classroom for training, competition for teachers' time among multiple training opportunities, turnover of trained teachers, varying state certification and training recognition regulations, and geographic spread of teachers.
  • The API engaged in more connections with external partners now than in the first years of funding. API programs and leaders engaged in regional, state, and national STEM education initiatives and policy discussions, although they operated individually rather than with a common strategy. API K--12 STEM programs collaborated with one another, and the number of local partnerships and partnerships across state lines increased.

Recommendations

  • Continue to make efforts to connect grantees' visions and goals with the strategic vision of the API.
  • Assess the extent to which API programs are achieving desired student outcomes by assessing progress based on metrics that are aligned with API logic models.
  • Gauge participants' perceptions and awareness of STEM careers and API programs.
  • Undertake an exercise to map pathways between K–12 education and middle-skill jobs.
  • Further expand programs into API counties in Ohio.
  • Continue efforts to promote innovative K–12 STEM instructional practices, with professional development aligned with the API vision and logic model.
  • Continue to seek diverse and coordinated funding streams to promote financial sustainability of programs.
  • Develop the API's role in catalyzing the regional community in a common strategy, as the API could benefit from a more coordinated strategy for its initiatives.
  • Coordinate funding opportunities among API leaders and the wider donor community. This could entail regional funder meetings to develop common priorities and funding approaches.
  • Build more extensive tristate partnerships and initiatives, building on foundations already in place through the API and other initiatives.
  • Measure the impact of these efforts on student achievement in STEM and entrance into STEM college and career pathways as time passes, in addition to studying process measures of the first few years of the API. Potential measures to consider include high school graduation, college attendance, and/or job attainment and performance.

This research was sponsored by Chevron Corporation and conducted within two divisions of the RAND Corporation: RAND Education and Labor and RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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