Issue Date: January 25, 2010
Educate To Innovate
Education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is essential to keeping a nation competitive. Judging by global math and science rankings, however, U.S. students are falling behind their international peers, and that has many people—including those in President Barack Obama’s Administration—worried about the nation’s ability to remain the world’s technology leader.
“The nation that out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow,” Obama said on Jan. 6 when he announced an expansion of his nearly two-month-old Educate to Innovate campaign, which aims to restore American students to the front of the global math and science pack over the next decade. “To continue to cede our leadership in education is to cede our position in the world,” he said.
Educate to Innovate was launched in November 2009 and relies on public-private partnerships to improve STEM education (C&EN, Nov. 30, 2009, page 9). Initially valued at more than $250 million over the next decade, the campaign doubled in size earlier this month when the President rolled out a second wave of public-private initiatives, worth $240 million, that focus on increasing and assisting STEM teachers (C&EN, Jan. 11, page 26). The majority of the campaign’s money is being put up by companies, nonprofits, and philanthropic groups.
Obama sees public-private partnership as key to improving U.S. STEM education.
“The success we seek is not going to be attained by government alone,” the President said. “And that’s why I’ve challenged the scientific community to think of new and creative ways to engage young people in their fields. That’s why we launched the Educate to Innovate campaign.”
But the Administration is not just relying on the private sector, it’s making a sizable investment of its own in STEM education. This comes in the form of a $4.3 billion Department of Education program called Race to the Top. Funded by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), this program allows states to compete for funding to support the development of ways to innovate and reform education. The President has also indicated that he will include a $1.4 billion request for this program in his 2011 budget to be released in February.
“The words and commitment are there,” says Glenn S. Ruskin, director of Public Affairs at the American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN. ACS is a major supporter of the President’s campaign, playing a key role in National Lab Day, which was part of the first wave of the campaign. National Lab Day—set for the first week in May to allow schools the flexibility to select the day that works for them—is a grassroots effort to reach out to 10 million sixth to 12th graders with hands-on learning opportunities.
Ruskin, however, worries about long-term federal support for STEM education after the initial heavy federal investment from the two-year funds ARRA provides runs out. “The worst thing that can result from this is that we have this $4 billion injection into STEM education and then no additional support,” he says.
This uncertainty leads Ruskin and others to call on the Administration to develop a sustainable STEM road map. “What is the agenda that will emerge that will carry us from today through the next decade in the STEM area?” Ruskin asks, adding that ACS is working to ensure such a road map emerges.
For now, STEM education is set to benefit from the Educate to Innovate campaign. The bulk of this second round of support comes from a project sponsored by Intel, the world leader in silicon innovation. The 10-year, $200 million commitment involves expanding the company’s program to train math and science teachers. The program, currently operating in four states, will now be available in all 50 states and will provide training to more than 100,000 math and science teachers over the next three years at no cost to the educators.
“Intel has worked for decades to improve science and math education, so the President’s initiative is exciting and timely,” says Shelly M. Esque, a vice president in the Legal & Corporate Affairs group and director of corporate affairs for Intel.
The Educate to Innovate second wave also includes some $40 million in public and private funding that will be used to expand Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships to 10 new universities in Michigan and Ohio. The fellowships provides stipends for teachers seeking a master’s degree in education in exchange for teaching at a difficult-to-staff middle or high school.
The leaders of nearly 80 major public universities are heading another partnership announced by the President this month. As part of their Science & Mathematics Teacher Imperative, the universities pledge to train 10,000 new teachers by 2015. Started in 2008, SMTI is sponsored by the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities (APLU) and involves 121 public research universities.
“As the institutions with, by far, the largest cohorts of the most capable undergraduate science, mathematics, and engineering students, public research universities have a critical role to play in preparing the number and quality of teachers the nation requires,” wrote the university leaders in a letter to Obama outlining their support. “Over the past several decades, our large public research institutions have all too often stood aside and not participated as we can—and must—to the critical need for highly qualified science and mathematics teachers.” This expansion of SMTI changes that.
Another program to be expanded as part of the Educate to Innovate campaign will be the National Math & Science Initiative’s UTeach program. This program involves support from companies, foundations, states, and federal agencies, and it allows students to obtain in four years both a degree with a major in math, science, or computer science and a teaching certification. Currently, 2,100 students at 14 universities take part in UTeach. But under the expansion 4,500 students at 20 universities are expected to take advantage of the program by 2015 and another 7,000 by 2018.
The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) are joining forces on another new Educate to Innovate initiative to recognize innovative pre-K–12 teachers and education practices that engage students in STEM. The multiyear initiative, called the PBS Teachers Innovation Challenge, will expand the PBS teacher community and allow teachers to share effective teaching practices.
“Teachers are our inspiration to create high-quality media content and services,” says Paula Kerger, president and chief executive officer of PBS. “We want to recognize that those dedicated, passionate teachers are the leaders driving educational change and helping students reach their full potential.”
In addition to these projects, Obama announced new federal efforts under the campaign. For example, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration is launching a pilot Summer of Innovation program. This multiweek program will engage middle school teachers and students—particularly low-income, minority students—in math- and science-based education programs.
The President also reached out to federal scientists to join the effort. “I’m calling on all 200,000 scientists who work for the federal government to do their part in their communities: to speak at schools, to create hands-on learning opportunities through efforts like National Lab Day, and to help stoke that same curiosity in students which perhaps led them to pursue a career in science in the first place,” he said.
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