FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

Obama Lauds STEM Teachers, Calls on Federal Scientists to Join National Lab Day

Rob Boisseau
Number 3 - January 11, 2010  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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On January 6 President Obama hosted recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and Mentoring in the White House East Room and used the occasion to boost the “Educate to Innovate” initiative.

Speaking to about 100 educators, Obama acknowledged that, “All of us have a role to play in building an education system that is worthy of our children and ready to help us seize the opportunities and meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Echoing previous comments, Obama noted that “despite the importance of education in [science and math], we have to admit we are right now being outpaced by our competitors.” 

The President added, “year after year the gap between the number of teachers we have and the number of teachers we need in these areas is widening.  The shortfall is projected to climb past a quarter of a million teachers in the next five years—and that gap is most pronounced in predominantly poor and minority schools.”

Returning to a favorite phrase, Obama cautioned, “The nation that out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow,” before highlighting several new public-private projects as part of the White House’s Educate to Innovate campaign.

Obama explained that Educate to Innovate is a “nationwide effort by citizens, non-for-profits, universities, and companies from across America to help us move to the top of the pack in math and science education.”

Companies and organizations have already pledged their resources to that end.  Intel will launch a 10-year, $200 million initiative to train math and science teachers to modernize their lesson plans with technology.  PBS and the National Science Teachers Association will partner to create a new online platform for science and math teachers to share best practices and teaching experiences.  Additional information can be found here.

The White House is also leveraging agency resources for this campaign, including a new NASA summer-learning program called “Summer of Innovation.”

According to a NASA press release, “The Summer of Innovation program will work with thousands of middle school teachers and students during multi-week programs in the summer of 2010 to engage students in stimulating math and science-based education programs.  NASA’s goal is to increase the number of future scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, with an emphasis on broadening participation of low-income, minority students.”

That press release also included information about funding opportunities for the Summer of Innovation program, viewable here.

Obama also rallied scientists to participate saying, “I’m calling on 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.”

Scientists can meet the President’s challenge by visiting www.nationallabday.org, and signing-up to volunteer in a local school.

On Wednesday, House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), who announced in December that he will not run for reelection this year, issued a statement citing the importance of highly qualified STEM teachers.  Gordon noted the contribution of STEM fields to national competitiveness as highlighted in the 2005 National Academies’ Rising Above the Gathering Storm report, and a key recommendation from that report to dramatically increase the number of “high qualified” K-12 STEM teachers.  Gordon’s statement concluded with this observation:

“The Administration has said that we’re spending $700 million a year in primary and secondary STEM education through the federal agencies.  Based on our own efforts to survey the agencies, we believe the total number is probably higher than that, because many important education activities are subsumed under research programs and budgets.  Clearly, we need a comprehensive inventory of what is being spent where in order to ensure that we’re using our limited resources wisely.”

Rob Boisseau
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rboissea@aip.org
301-209-3094