A Science Educator at the Department of Ed

By Sean Cavanagh — March 17, 2009 2 min read
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The names of new staffers at the U.S. Department of Education continue to trickle out, week after week. Here’s one that may be of particular interest to math and science teachers around the country: Steven Robinson, who will carry the title of special adviser to Secretary Arne Duncan.

I’d heard that Robinson was working at the department, and earlier, on the presidential transition team, from math and science folks in and around the Beltway, and thought readers might like to know a bit more about him. Robinson will advise the secretary on K-12 and higher education “STEM” issues, according to department officials. His background suggests he’s familiar with both worlds. He’s a former middle and high school and college teacher with 17 years experience in the classroom, agency officials said. (He’s taught both AP biology and AP chemistry, among other classes.) He has a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology from the University of Michigan and a degree in biology from Princeton.

He began working with Barack Obama back when the president was a U.S. senator from Illinois. Robinson served in Obama’s office as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Education Fellow. Einstein Fellows are math and science teachers given financial support to work on Capitol Hill and in federal offices. The idea is they provide policymakers with an on-the-ground perspective on teaching and education issues. He was an adviser during Obama’s presidential campaign, and, as I mentioned, he worked on the transition, consulting with Congress and advocacy groups.

He also volunteered with the D.C. public schools while working in the Senate, reading and tutoring elementary students and helping middle-grade students in math, according to the biographical sketch from the department.

Where are Robinson and others in the new administration likely to focus their attention when it comes to math and science issues? Judging from what Obama’s said so far, it’s a safe bet recruiting and retaining more teachers in STEM subjects, and making sure they are prepared, could be a focus. One question is whether the Obama administration will carry forward some of the STEM efforts promoted by President Bush, such as the work of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. The panel released a much-publicized report last year that called for a more focused curriculum in early-grades math, an approach that won both praise and criticism, depending on the audience.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.