High school science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teachers will soon have a new federal program to recognize and support them: STEM Master Teacher Corps. The national program rolled out last month by President Barack Obama aims to recognize outstanding STEM teachers, strengthen STEM education, and boost the U.S.’s global competitiveness.
“If America is going to compete for jobs and industries of tomorrow, we need to make sure our children are getting the best education possible,” Obama said in his July 17 announcement of the initiative. “Teachers matter, and great teachers deserve our support.”
The corps will begin in 2013 with a planned federal investment of $1 billion. There will be 50 corps locations across the U.S., each supporting 50 exceptional STEM teachers chosen through a highly competitive process based on national benchmarks for education. The initiative’s goal is to grow over four years to include 10,000 master teachers.
Through their expertise, leadership, and service, these master teachers will help train other teachers to become more skilled and effective in teaching STEM subjects. In exchange for their multiyear commitment, the master teachers will receive an annual stipend of up to $20,000 on top of their base salaries, making their compensations competitive with those of alternative careers.
“In a globally competitive economy where today our nation’s students are being outperformed by their peers in other countries like China and South Korea, I think it’s more critical, more urgent than ever before to make investments in our education system that better prepare students both for college and for careers,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a White House conference call announcing the corps.
The STEM Master Teacher Corps will be supported by the Department of Education in collaboration with independent, nonprofit organizations and local public-private partnerships between school districts and STEM-related businesses and industries.
“This corps will be a nationwide community of outstanding public schoolteachers in STEM subjects who are effective in the classroom and can serve as leaders in their schools and communities as models for other teachers and as inspiration to young people who are considering entering this field,” said White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz in the conference call.
The initiative came out of a recommendation in the President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology’s 2010 report “Prepare and Inspire.” That report examined how to recognize and retain America’s most talented STEM teachers, build a community of practice among them, raise the profile of the STEM teaching profession, and leverage excellent teachers to collaborate with their peers to strengthen STEM education in America’s public schools.
“We’re not just fighting for better education here, we’re fighting for our country, and if we want to keep good jobs in this country, we know we need a much better educated workforce, and so many of the skills that are in demand right now are in the STEM areas,” Duncan said. “I would hope and fully anticipate that Republicans, Democrats, everybody will come together to support great talent in the STEM areas in our nation’s schools.”
Lawmakers recognize the urgency of STEM education. “We have a STEM education crisis in this country, and we must do something about it if we hope to compete in the 21st-century global economy,” says House of Representatives Science, Space & Technology Committee ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas). “According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. will see over 1.2 million STEM jobs open up by the year 2018, yet there is a serious shortage of qualified college graduates to fill them. If we want those jobs to stay in the U.S., we must continue to invest in STEM education for our future workforce.”
Scientific groups such as the American Chemical Society applaud the new initiative. “Teaching STEM subjects is most effectively achieved by teachers who are masters in the field,” ACS President Bassam Z. Shakhashiri says. “To really teach our kids science, math, and engineering, it is imperative that teachers have deep knowledge in the discipline itself.”
Mary Kirchhoff, director of the ACS Education Division, notes that scientific organizations such as ACS could help select the teachers. “There are existing programs that recognize excellence in teaching throughout the country,” she says. “The Administration will be well served to tap into the membership and expertise of the various scientific societies that have members who have been recognized for their outstanding accomplishments in the classroom.”
In addition, Shakhashiri tells C&EN, “ACS can take a very strong leadership role in developing the content material and the pedagogical approaches for bringing about effective classroom teaching of science,” he says. “I see ACS as a leader in pulling together the best minds in science and asking them to work closely with people in science education to put together meaningful programs to prepare a new cadre of science teachers.”
For the program to be truly successful, a long-term commitment is needed, says Shakhashiri. “This requires the sustained, thoughtful presence of scientists and science educators working together in the local community and also at the federal level to see to it that the quality of education in the U.S. in science and in all other areas is the best quality possible.”