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NC businesses helping shape STEM education

May 2, 2011 - Top corporate leaders met last month in Washington, DC, to rally behind a national campaign aimed at enlisting businesses to help boost student skills in science, technology, engineering and math and to get involved in a "STEM revolution." They heard from speakers urging sweeping change as a necessary step to improve student readiness. They heard from the authors of a new report, The Case for Being Bold, released by the meeting's host, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for a Competitive Workforce, urging businesses to play a more active role in transforming education across the nation.

North Carolina is already in the game. As one of the nation's Race to the Top grant recipients, the state is in the process of developing networks of STEM-focused, non-traditional schools, with related businesses serving as essential partners. Those business leaders will ensure that direct link between economic development and education, providing students and teachers with hands-on learning experiences in the schools and in the workplace and assisting in the development of classroom projects, to name only a few samples of involvement. The aim is to help all schools and districts advance STEM education by linking deeply innovative schools to more conventional schools in every corner of North Carolina.

A network of schools oriented to the health and life sciences and anchored by City of Medicine Academy in Durham is linked to some of the state's key hospitals and health care companies. In fact, that school relocates this fall to the campus of Durham Regional Hospital. The state's leading utility and energy companies are involved in the development of a network of schools with a focus on energy and sustainability that will be anchored by a new early college high school in Wake County, located at N.C. State University. Vital business partners will be involved with a network of schools focusing on biotechnology and agriscience and with a network focused on aerospace and advanced manufacturing.

With a network of schools partnered with an Industry Innovation Council comprised of business representatives, students and educators will benefit from curricula more in sync with employer expectations and from real-world applications to classroom instruction. At the same time, that collaboration will strengthen the state's economy by ensuring students graduate with the skills employers demand and young people need to be successful in the new economy - skills like critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity. Local districts and their schools will also be engaged in exploring new approaches to teaching and learning in STEM-aligned classrooms so that all communities can eventually benefit from these networks.

This isn't an earlier generation's career and technical education. The connections to business and industry and higher education that these schools are forging provide the hook with which to make academic content relevant to students. Greater relevance and student engagement means greater effort with advanced academic content. These schools will also emphasize STEM skills -- skills associated with today's workplace and society.

The Case for Being Bold report spotlights the significant challenge the nation faces in creating schools that are effective in raising achievement in STEM knowledge and skills. The report says businesses can make the difference.

"Business leaders bring two things to the table in the discussion of STEM reform," the report asserts. "They are the ones who will hire our graduates for STEM jobs and thus know what skills and knowledge are most in demand; and as leaders of organizations that must constantly adapt to new challenges, they are positioned to help educators manage the transformational change we need."

"Business leaders seeking a STEM revolution cannot settle for comfortable tweaking," the Chamber report cautions, "but must embrace efforts to rethink the organization and delivery of schooling."

The North Carolina New Schools Project has made the creation of deeply collaborative ties with business and industry, higher education, school developers and research organizations a top priority. The STEM agenda requires a much greater alignment of resources and talent if this approach to education is to benefit all students and our state's economy.

- Lynne Garrison, NCNSP Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Engagement

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