Education Funding

Obama Unveils Projects to Bolster STEM Teaching

January 07, 2010 5 min read
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President Barack Obama yesterday announced more than $250 million in private investments to help attract and prepare new teachers for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, collectively known as the “STEM” field, and to help improve instruction in those areas by practicing teachers.

The new commitments roughly double the amount the president first announced in November as part of his “Educate to Innovate” campaign for excellence in STEM education. (“Obama Backing STEM Education,” Dec. 2, 2009.)

The campaign is described by the White House as a partnership that involves efforts not only from the federal government, but also from leading companies, foundations, nonprofit groups, and science and engineering societies to work with young people across the nation to excel in science and math.

The largest single commitment in yesterday’s announcement comes from the Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., and the Intel Foundation, which are planning a 10-year, $200 million effort to expand on work under way to improve math and science education, including through increased professional-development opportunities for teachers.

Teacher Lana Hansen of Centennial, Colo., listens in the East Room of the White House as President Barack Obama honors educators for excellence in mathematics and science teaching and mentoring.

Other efforts the president announced include growth of the “UTeach” program, which aims to produce teachers with deep content knowledge in math and science, and an expansion of work by the nonprofit Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., to revamp teacher-education programs and bring new talent into classrooms to address significant shortages in math and science.

“Our future depends on reaffirming America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technology innovation,” President Obama said during an East Room ceremony. “And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today, especially in math, science, technology, and engineering.”

At the event, Mr. Obama highlighted some of the U.S. Department of Education’s work during his administration to improve STEM education, but said government alone can’t meet the challenge, and he highlighted a number of public-private partnerships.

One of those partnerships is leading to the expansion of the “UTeach” program, which began at the University of Texas at Austin in 1997. The program has already been replicated at 13 universities in nine states, and plans are now under way to add six more universities. The replication effort--which is being directed by the UTeach Institute at the University of Texas at Austin in conjunction with the National Math and Science Initiative, a Dallas-based nonprofit—is expected to prepare 7,000 undergraduates in STEM subjects to become new math and science teachers by 2018. Support and funding for the new replication work comes from private foundations and the business community as well as state agencies.

Increasing the Pool

The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation effort will expand from Indiana to include Michigan and Ohio.

It includes fellowships, funded with support from private philanthropies and state coffers, that provide $30,000 stipends to prospective teachers who agree to spend a year in the revamped teacher-education programs and teach for three years in rural and urban secondary schools that serve students who are predominantly from low-income families.

NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. listens as President Barack Obama honors teachers who received awards for excellence in mathematics and science teaching and mentoring.

Arthur Levine, the president of the Woodrow Wilson foundation, said the effort is already making an important impact on the teacher pool in Indiana.

“For example, in Indiana, with 80 teachers, we were able to increase the number certified annually in STEM subjects by 20 percent,” said Mr. Levine, who previously was the president and a professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University. “In Michigan, we would prepare enough STEM teachers to fill all the vacancies in Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo,” though he added that the program would not necessarily target those particular cities.

Altogether, over the course of the three-year programs, the Woodrow Wilson fellowships will prepare more than 700 math and science teachers at 14 institutions, with a total of nearly $40 million in public and private funding, according to the foundation.

Mr. Levine also emphasized the efforts to overhaul teacher-preparation programs at participating universities.

“We’re basically asking them to throw out their program and start over again in many cases,” he said.

To help expand the work, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will provide $16.7 million over two years in Michigan, and in Ohio several foundations jointly will provide some $10 million.

The Intel effort will provide training to more than 100,000 U.S. math and science teachers over the next three years, including an intensive, 80-hour professional-development course in math for elementary school teachers.

“With the president shining a light, you get a whole new level of attention and excitement” for STEM education, said Shelly M. Esque, the vice president for corporate affairs at Intel and the president of the Intel Foundation.

‘Summer of Innovation’

President Obama also announced several other public-private partnerships to improve STEM education.

NASA, in partnership with companies, nonprofit groups, and states, will launch a pilot program to enhance STEM learning opportunities for students during the summer. The “Summer of Innovation” program will work with thousands of middle school teachers and students during multiweek programs this summer to engage students in stimulating math and science-based education programs.

Meanwhile, the Public Broadcasting Service and its 356 partner stations, in collaboration with the National Science Teachers Association, will launch a multiyear STEM initiative to expand the PBS teacher community, provide a platform for sharing effective teaching practices, and inspire the next generation of teacher-leaders.

The Obama administration has also sought to use the $4 billion Race to the Top Fund, part of the federal economic-stimulus program, as a mechanism to bolster its STEM agenda. In awarding the competitive grants, the U.S. Department of Education will look in part at whether states are committing to improve STEM education.

Beyond that, the federal government across a variety of agencies provides more than $3 billion annually to improve STEM education at all levels. (“Federal Projects’ Impact on STEM Remains Unclear,” March 27, 2008.)

At the White House event, Mr. Obama praised the educators assembled to receive awards for their excellence in teaching math and science.

“In the end, the work that you do, and the difference that you make, are what all these reforms are all about,” he said

A version of this article appeared in the January 20, 2010 edition of Education Week

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