For those who thought STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics) education was going to get swept away in the educational tsunamis of economic stimulus, core curriculum debates, student performance concerns, and a new national emphasis on achievement and innovation, guess again. Speaking before the National Academy of Sciences this morning, President Barack Obama spoke of the future of science and innovation the United States. And a good portion of it focused on education … STEM education.
I’ll let the President speak for himself here. Lots of interesting information, particularly the shout-out to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As I’ve noted previously, I’ve been working with the Pennsylvania STEM Initiative and the public/private partnership in the Keystone State that is driving the terrific STEM progress Gov. Ed Rendell and company is leading. So this is a nice hat tip for the PA STEM Initiative
and for other NGA STEM states that are investing in statewide, systemic STEM efforts.
So humming “Hail to the Chief,” here is a segment of the President’s STEM remarks this morning:
“Fifth, since we know that the progress and prosperity of future generations will depend on what we do now to educate the next generation, today I am announcing a renewed commitment to education in mathematics and science.
Through this commitment, American students will move from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math over the next decade. For we know that the nation that out-educates us today – will out-compete us tomorrow.
We cannot start soon enough. We know that the quality of math and science teachers is the most influential single factor in determining whether or a student will succeed or fail in these subjects. Yet, in high school, more than twenty percent of students in math and more than sixty percent of students in chemistry and physics are taught by teachers without expertise in these fields. And this problem is only going to get worse; there is a projected shortfall of more than 280,000 math and science teachers across the country by 2015.
That is why I am announcing today that states making strong commitments and progress in math and science education will be eligible to compete later this fall for additional funds under the Secretary of Education’s $5 billion Race to the Top program.
I am challenging states to dramatically improve achievement in math and science by raising standards, modernizing science labs, upgrading curriculum, and forging partnerships to improve the use of science and technology in our classrooms. And I am challenging states to enhance teacher preparation and training, and to attract new and qualified math and science teachers to better engage students and reinvigorate these subjects in our schools.
In this endeavor, and others, we will work to support inventive approaches. Let’s create systems that retain and reward effective teachers, and let’s create new pathways for experienced professionals to enter the classroom. There are, right now, chemists who could teach chemistry; physicists who could teach physics; statisticians who could teach mathematics. But we need to create a way to bring the expertise and the enthusiasm of these folks – folks like you – into the classroom.
There are states, for example, doing innovative work. I am pleased to announce that Governor Ed Rendell will lead an effort with the National Governors Association to increase the number of states that are making science, technology, engineering and mathematics education a top priority. Six states are currently participating in the initiative, including Pennsylvania, which has launched an effective program to ensure that his state has the skilled workforce in place to draw the jobs of the 21st century. I’d want every state participate.
But our work does not end with a high school diploma. For decades, we led the world in educational attainment, and as a consequence we led the world in economic growth. The G.I. Bill, for example, helped send a generation to college. But in this new economy, we’ve come to trail other nations in graduation rates, in educational achievement, and in the production of scientists and engineers.
That’s why my administration has set a goal that will greatly enhance our ability to compete for the high-wage, high-tech jobs of the 21st century – and to foster the next generation of scientists and engineers. In the next decade – by 2020 – America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. And we’ve provided tax credits and grants to make a college education more affordable.
My budget also triples the number of National Science Foundation graduate research fellowships. This program was created as part of the Space Race five decades ago. In the decades since, it’s remained largely the same size – even as the numbers of students who seek these fellowships has skyrocketed. We ought to be supporting these young people who are pursuing scientific careers, not putting obstacles in their path.
This is how we will lead the world in new discoveries in this new century. But it will take far more than the work of government. It will take all of us. It will take all of you.
And so today I want to challenge you to use your love and knowledge of science to spark the same sense of wonder and excitement in a new generation.
America’s young people will rise to the challenge if given the opportunity – if called upon to join a cause larger than themselves. And we’ve got evidence. The average age in NASA’s mission control during the Apollo 17 mission was just 26. I know that young people today are ready to tackle the grand challenges of this century
So I want to persuade you to spend time in the classroom, talking – and showing –young people what it is that your work can mean, and what it means to you. Encourage your university to participate in pr
ograms to allow students to get a degree in scientific fields and a teaching certificate at the same time. Think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, like science festivals, robotics competitions, and fairs that encourage young people to create, build, and invent – to be makers of things.
And I want you to know that I’m going to be working along side you. I’m going to participate in a public awareness and outreach campaign to encourage students to consider careers in science, mathematics, and engineering – because our future depends on it.
And the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation will be launching a joint initiative to inspire tens of thousands of American students to pursue careers in science, engineering and entrepreneurship related to clean energy.
It will support an educational campaign to capture the imagination of young people who can help us meet the energy challenge. It will create research opportunities for undergraduates and educational opportunities for women and minorities who too often have been underrepresented in scientific and technological fields – but are no less capable of inventing the solutions that will help us grow our economy and save our planet. And it will support fellowships, interdisciplinary graduate programs, and partnerships between academic institutions and innovative companies to prepare a generation of Americans to meet this generational challenge.”
Couldn’t have written it any better myself, Mr. President. Hopefully, policymakers, educators, and industry leaders will all take note, lending their endorsement and intellectual and financial support to moving STEM efforts forward. STEM is the perfect intersection of educational and economic opportunities. And I may be biased, but the work being done by Gov. Rendell and the Pennsylvania STEM Initiative is the perfect model of promising practice for states and communities to embrace, bringing the public and private sector together for a common goal and a common dream.