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Obama Unveils Projects to Bolster STEM Teaching

January 19, 2010 5 min read
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President Barack Obama has once again sought to promote greater attention to education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, collectively known as the STEM fields, as he announced more than $250 million in private investments to help attract and prepare new teachers in those subjects and improve instruction by practicing teachers.

The 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 White House describes the campaign 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

Public-Private Parterships

The largest single commitment in the Jan. 6 announcement comes from the Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., and the Intel Foundation, which are planning a 10-year, $200 million venture to expand on work under way to improve math and science education, including through increased professional-development opportunities for teachers.

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

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.

“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.”

Francis Q. Eberle, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, based in Arlington, Va., argues that Mr. Obama stands apart from other recent presidents in the extent to which he’s personally highlighting the importance of STEM education.

“What he’s doing is saying, ‘This is everybody’s issue,’ ” Mr. Eberle said. “The louder he talks, the better we feel.”

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

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 cannot meet the challenge. He touted a number of public-private partnerships.

One of those is leading to the expansion of UTeach, 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—directed by the UTeach Institute at UT-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

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.

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

It includes fellowships, financed 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 work for three years in rural and urban secondary schools that serve predominantly low-income populations.

Arthur E. Levine, the president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, said the undertaking is already making an impact on Indiana’s teacher pool.

“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, a former president and a professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

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 nearly $40 million in public and private funding, according to the foundation.

Mr. Levine also emphasized endeavors 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 train more than 100,000 math and science teachers over the next three years, including an intensive, 80-hour professional-development math course for elementary teachers.

Mr. Obama also noted a commitment made this month by leaders representing some 120 public universities to boost the supply of math and science teachers. The enterprise is expected to lead to the preparation of more than 10,000 math and science teachers annually by 2015 by the institutions.

‘Summer of Innovation’

The president also announced several other public-private partnerships.

NASA, in partnership with companies, nonprofit groups, and states, will launch a pilot program of summer learning opportunities for students in STEM subjects.

The Public Broadcasting Service and its 356 partner stations, in collaboration with the NSTA, is launching a multiyear STEM initiative to expand the PBS teacher community, provide a platform for sharing effective teaching practices, and inspire the next genertion 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 law, to bolster its STEM agenda. In awarding the competitive grants, the Education Department will look in part at whether states commit to improve STEM education.

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

At the White House event, President Obama praised a group of teachers and mentors assembled to receive awards for their excellence in teaching mathematics and science.

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

A version of this article appeared in the January 20, 2010 edition of Education Week as President Unveils Projects to Boost Teaching of STEM Subjects

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