Saving STEM Education: Inside Obama's New Initiative

President Obama recently announced a new CEO-led initiative that aims to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

On September 16, President Barack Obama unveiled a CEO-led effort to improve education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The nonprofit initiative, called Change the Equation, involves more than 100 chief executives of private-sector companies and has $5 million in funding for its first year of operation.

The new initiative is the business community's response to the president's 2009 "call to action" for all Americans to join the cause of elevating STEM education as a national priority essential to meeting the economic challenges of this century, according to the White House.

Former astronaut Sally Ride and current and former executives from Intel, Xerox, Time Warner Cable and Eastman Kodak founded Change the Equation, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Carnegie Corporation of New York.

"For the last 20 to 25 years, our society really hasn't put a focus on the importance of math and science education. We're starting to pay the price," Ride recently told CNN, noting that the United States has slipped in global rankings of math and science literacy among students.

In its 2010-2011 Global Competitiveness Report, the World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. No. 52 out of 139 countries for math and science education quality. In both the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 reports, the U.S. ranked No. 48.

A National Academies study last week warned of a precarious economic future unless changes are made to STEM education in the U.S. In Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited, the authors concluded that the nation's competitive outlook has worsened since 2005, when the first Gathering Storm report issued a call to strengthen K-12 education and double the federal basic-research budget. Despite occasional bright spots, the nation's educational system has shown little sign of improvement, particularly in math and science, the report says. (See Drowning By Numbers: Engineering in China, India, U.S.)

President Obama made STEM a priority as part of his administration's recent $4 billion Race to the Top competition, wherein states were encouraged to develop a comprehensive strategy to improve achievement in STEM subjects, partner with local institutions and broaden participation of women and underrepresented minorities. As a result, the winning states are taking decisive actions to embed improvements in STEM education into their overall educational reform plans.

With a membership of more than 100 CEOs, Change the Equation aims to meet the following three goals:

  1. Improve STEM teaching at all grade levels;
  2. Inspire student appreciation and excitement for STEM, especially among women and under-represented minorities; and
  3. Achieve a sustained national commitment to improving STEM education.

Within a year, Change the Equation is expected to replicate successful privately funded programs in 100 communities where students are most in need. Projects will support everything from robotics competitions and science summer camps to Advanced Placement (AP) math and science courses. The program will also develop a scorecard to help states determine how they can improve STEM curriculums and teacher development.

The initiative "includes a pledge from 350 science centers and museums to offer 2 million hours of science enrichment to at least 25,000 children and teens in all 50 states, and an initiative from Hewlett Packard [to] put employee volunteers into classrooms," according to Reuters.

Among the other new public-private partnerships and commitments:

  • Transforming libraries and museums into 21st-century learning labs — Funding the creation of 30 new hands-on learning centers nationwide, which will become hubs for youth engagement, creativity and hands-on learning.
  • National STEM video-game challenge — The Entertainment Software Association, Microsoft, the American Library Association and others partnering to launch two annual competitions focused on both playing and designing games for STEM learning.
  • Raytheon's new STEM tool for state policymakers — Leveraging Raytheon's engineering workforce and unique expertise in modeling and simulation to expand its national "STEM Modeling Tool" to the state level.
  • Nature Publishing's "Bridge to Science" program for parents and scientists — Nature Publishing making a three-year, $5.5 million commitment to programs that will build stronger connections between parents, students and scientists; and affiliated journals providing cost-free professional development for biology teachers looking to incorporate cutting-edge science, and recruiting 1,000 scientist-readers to participate in classrooms.
  • New efforts to bring scientists and engineers into classrooms — Hewlett-Packard's launching of a nationwide employee-volunteering initiative, providing matching donations for volunteer hours, recruiting scientist and engineer retirees and engaging business partners to expand employee volunteering; and the biotechnology industry training and deploying scientists to collaborate with teachers and students on high school lab projects.
  • Multiyear investments in STEM programs — ExxonMobil's committing to invest $120 million in STEM education programs over three years to affect thousands of teachers and students; and Merck's launching of a five-year, $19.5 million investment to support science education in schools, including co-designing an intensive professional development program for teachers and administrators.

The new initiative is part of Obama's broader "Educate to Innovate" campaign to raise American students to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade. Since Obama first announced "Educate to Innovate" last year, it has harnessed more than $700 million worth of financial and in-kind contributions to STEM education, according to the White House.

In a separate report earlier this month, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released its own recommendations: Over the next decade, the federal government should help recruit and train 100,000 STEM teachers, support the creation of 1,000 new STEM-focused schools and reward the top 5 percent of STEM teachers.


Change the Equation

Educate to Innovate

President Obama to Announce Major Expansion of "Educate to Innovate" Campaign to Improve STEM Education

The White House, Sept. 16, 2010

Remarks by the President at the Announcement of the "Change the Equation" Initiative

The White House, Sept. 16, 2010

The Global Competitiveness Report 2010-2011

The World Economic Forum, Sept. 9, 2010

Country/Economy Profile: United States

The World Economic Forum, Sept. 9, 2010

In National Academy of Sciences Speech, President Obama Announces Major Investments in Research and Education...

The National Academies, April 27, 2009

Obama Announces New Education Initiative Led by Corporate CEOs

CNN, Sept. 16, 2010

Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited

The National Academies, Sept. 23, 2010

U.S. Competitive Position Has Further Declined in Past 5 Years, Report Says...

The National Academies, Sept. 23, 2010

CEOs Back Plan to Boost US Math, Science Education

by Maggie Fox

Reuters, Sept. 16, 2010

Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in [STEM] for America's Future

President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, September 2010

White House to Announce $5 Million Science, Math, Tech Education Initiative

by Cecilia King

Post Tech (The Washington Post), Sept. 16, 2010

105 Companies Join Forces With Obama to "Change The Equation" for Education

by Austin Carr

Fast Company, Sept. 16, 2010

Report: Poor Science Education Impairs U.S. Economy

by Dan Vergano

USA Today, Sept. 24, 2010

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