be there for the birth. Consequences
for such assignments are about more
than grades—they affect living things.
The school is a metaphor for a farm
family; it provides a sense of place,
as students care for and support one
The teachers, many of whom were
agriculture professionals before their
career switch to teaching, work closely
with former colleagues in the agricultural world as well as with their
current teaching colleagues to align
the curriculum to industry practices
and create an authentic, integrated
What Makes These Schools Tick?
Each of the eight schools we studied
showed evidence of each of the 10
components that make STEM schools
work. Nevertheless, four of those components have special prominence.
A STEM-Focused Curriculum
Each school has a strong college-preparatory STEM curriculum, usually
requiring students to take more
STEM courses than mandated by their
states. Students have to pass STEM
courses at a higher performance level
than is typical, whether assessments
are administered through a mastery
learning system or through demanding
performance assessments. The curriculum is linked to real-life experiences that require students to perform
as responsible individuals operating
in collaborative groups in the real
world. The schools have expanded
beyond their physical and temporal
boundaries to form partnerships with
industry or colleges (House & Peters-Burton, 2014). These partnerships ask
high school students to do more, learn
more, and perform as adults as they
develop 21st century skills.
A Responsive Administrative Structure
Although each school is organized dif-
ferently, all have well-defined missions
developed in collaboration with the
community. They’re all schools of
choice that have the goal of reaching
underserved student groups through
a rigorous STEM program. Their
leadership is mission-centered.
The schools have flexible adminis-
trations that can garner community
support and quickly capitalize on
opportunities in the community for
their students (Ford & Behrend,
2014). School leaders don’t neces-
sarily have backgrounds in STEM, but
they’re all strong leaders who move
their schools forward. They’ve created
systems that give teachers opportu-
nities for leadership, creativity, and
autonomy. They’ve developed strong
relationships with the community and
with industry, and they know each
student and family well and are proud
of their students’ accomplishments.
A Well-Prepared STEM Teaching Staff
The teachers have solid backgrounds
in STEM, either through strong
discipline-based teacher preparation
programs or nontraditional routes to
teaching in STEM fields. They col-
laborate on integrating STEM activities
and curricular innovations, both inside
and outside school, often including
the humanities teachers. As active
professionals who seek challenges and
growth, the teachers are enthusiastic
about teaching and often team teach or
teach more than one STEM discipline.
Although modes of instruction vary,
interpersonal interactions are person-
alized and warm. The teachers view
each student as someone who can
learn and develop, if given the right
opportunities (Spillane, 2014).
The schools focus their efforts on
female students, minority students,
and those who are first in their families to attend college (Lynch & Ross,
2014). Supports begin with recruiting
and admissions systems in which students and families are given a realistic
picture of the demands of a STEM high
school and what it will take to ready
students for college admission and
success in STEM fields. Orientation
and bonding activities for freshmen
prepare them for new ways of learning.
They stress values such as responsibility, leadership, collaboration, and
courage, and the messages are often
delivered through the example of older
students who work with younger ones.
These schools have well-developed
tutoring systems, and they monitor
student progress to match students
with supports through teacher-led
advisories. Tracking is minimal, but
sometimes special classes and doubling up on class time are necessary
for certain students—especially in
mathematics. The intent is always
to reintegrate students into regular
What Makes Them
Work: Ten Critical
1 A STEM-focused curriculum.
2 Reform-based instructional
strategies and project-based
3 Integrated and innovative
4 Blended formal and informal
extended learning opportunities.
5 Real-world STEM partnerships.
6 Early college–level coursework.
7 Well-prepared STEM teaching
8 Inclusive STEM mission.
9 Responsive administrative
10 Supports for underrepresented