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UPDATED: STEM Guru Steve Robinson Moves to White House

By Michele McNeil — September 21, 2009 2 min read
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Steve Robinson, who was hired by Education Secretary Arne Duncan as a special adviser on math, science and other issues, is moving to the White House—a small but not insignificant shift in job duties.

The education department says he’s still working as a special assistant in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, but will be doing so from the White House’s Domestic Policy Council.

“Having Steve over there allows the [department] to maximize coordination” between the education department, the White House, and other agencies, an Education Department spokeswoman said.

Just last week, Robinson, a former high school science teacher who worked for Obama when he was in the U.S. Senate, was a focus of an EdWeek story on Washington fellowships for teachers.

What’s interesting about Robinson’s shift is that it further signals that STEM is a really big issue for President Obama, but perhaps not as significant for his education secretary. (UPDATE: The department wants to stress that STEM is just as significant for Duncan as it is for Obama, and that Robinson’s move is more of a re-location than anything else.)

President Obama has talked about science, technology, engineering and math (the STEM subjects) a lot in major speeches. Today, President Obama spoke at a New York community college to emphasize innovation and technology, according to prepared remarks.

In an August speech on the economy, he said: “Right now, our schools continue to trail many of our competitors, and that’s why I’ve challenged states to dramatically improve achievement by raising standards and modernizing science labs, upgrading curriculum, forming new partnerships to promote math and science, and improving the use of technology in the classroom.”

In the many, many, many speeches Obama’s education secretary has given, Duncan doesn’t often focus on things like modernizing science labs, or improving technology. That’s not to say Duncan isn’t in favor of these things. (UPDATE: I was neglectful in not highlighting the March speech he gave to the National Science Teachers Association, when he stressed getting great talent into STEM subjects. Or his Aug. 25 remarks to the National Science Board panel.) It’s just that he’s much more keenly focused on teacher quality, data systems, academic standards, and low-performing schools. And probably rightly so, since Congress identified those areas, or “assurances”, as priorities in implementing the $787 billion economic-stimulus act, $100 billion of which is for education.

So in many ways, it seems Robinson is a better fit for the White House than the Education Department.

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