Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

Presidential Advisers Release STEM Education Plan

on September 17, 2010
In a White House video, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and business leaders talk about how science and math help individuals understand the world around them. | Screenshot from

Support Common Core standards in math and science. Recruit and train 100,000 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers. Create an advanced research projects agency to research and develop education technology platforms and instructional materials.

In a 130-page report released Thursday, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology made these three recommendations along with four others that would improve K-12 STEM education. 

The council concluded that the federal government has historically lacked a coherent strategy and leadership K-12 STEM education. And if the United States actually wants to improve STEM education, we must focus on both preparation and inspiration.

"Everyone has a stake in improving STEM education," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. "Inspiring all our students to be capable in math and science will help them contribute in an increasingly technology-based economy, and will also help America prepare the next generation of STEM professionals — scientists, engineers, architects and technology professionals — to ensure our competitiveness."

While the report focuses on actions that the federal government should take, the advisers also call for collaboration — collaboration that should come from state and local governments, private organizations and philanthropic sectors.

Obama announces CEO-led STEM initiative

And that collaboration has already started with the private sector. In 2009, President Obama asked five leading business and thought leaders to start an initative that will improve student participation and performance in STEM subjects. On Thursday, Obama announced the Change the Equation initiative in conjunction with the report's release.

One hundred companies already have joined Change the Equation, led by founding members Intel, Kodak, Sally Ride Science, Time Warner Cable and Xerox.

The campaign goals include improving STEM teaching at all grade levels, expanding students' appreciation and excitement for STEM programs, and gathering sustained commitment to the STEM movement from key stakeholders. The first two goals emphasize increasing the number of students and teachers in these subjects who are female and from diverse backgrounds.

“‘I can’t do math' has become an iconic excuse in our society,” said Linda Rosen, chief executive officer of Change the Equation, in a statement.  “Many Americans have expressed it, but I don’t believe it’s an accurate reflection of who we are, or, more importantly, what we can do.”

Rosen continued, “If we don’t encourage our children and students to get excited about math as well as science, technology and engineering, we are denying them the chance to reach their potential and be prepared for a future filled with opportunity.” 

And we'll also keep falling behind other nations in K-12 STEM education, the report says. International comparisons show that U.S. students place in the middle or lower, though some have disputed those results.

Council gives recommendations to improve STEM education

In fall 2009, Obama asked the council to develop recommendations for actions that the administration should take to make sure the United States leads STEM education in the next few decades. The council concluded that we must prepare and inspire students to learn about STEM and pursue careers in those fields.

Over the past few decades, the federal government has not created a comprehensive strategy for K-12 STEM education, the report found. The council's recommendations not only give the government a strategy, but also give it one that expands the federal government's education initiatives, particularly in the Education Department and the National Science Foundation.

1. Support the state-led movement for common core standards in math and science

By support, the authors of the report mean giving both financial and technical assistance to states. That support will help them create professional development and assessments that match up with the common standards.

2. Recruit and train 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade

"The most important factor in ensuring excellence is great STEM teachers," the report says. To train STEM teachers, the federal government should recruit, prepare and support at least 100,000 new STEM middle and high school teachers with strong majors in STEM fields and strong content-specific pedagogical preparation.

3. Recognize and reward the top 5 percent of the nation's STEM teachers

But if the government decides to train 100,000 STEM teachers, they need to reward the teachers who excel, according to the report. That's why the government should create a national STEM Master Teachers Corps. The top teachers in the nation should receive significant salary supllements and funds to support activities in their schools and districts.

4. Use technology to drive innovation by creating an advanced research projects agency for education

By investing in research and development, the agency would spur the growth of technology platforms and STEM digital course materials. The agency would fall under the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation or become a joint entity.


5. Develop a coordinated iniative to support the development of STEM-based activities after school

Through a coordinated iniative called INSPIRE, the federal government should support the development of STEM-based after school and extended day activities.

6. Create 1,000 new STEM-focused schools over the next decade

The United States has about 100 STEM-focused schools, and most of them are high schools. The report recommends changing that state of affairs by promoting the creation of at least 200 new STEM-focused high schools and 800 STEM-focused elementary and middle schools, with an emphasis on those serving minority and high-poverty areas.

7. Strengthen national STEM leadership

The federal government needs to exhibit strong leadership, create a coherent STEM strategy and establish a high-level partnership between the Education Department and the National Science foundation, according to the report.

The report also recommends establishing a standing committee on STEM education within the National Science and Technology Council that will shape the federal STEM education strategy. And in conjunction with the National Governors Association, promote and monitor progress through an independent Presidential Commission on STEM Education.

The cost of a STEM education initiative

With existing funds, the federal government should be able to work on these recommendations. Some of them could be funded partially through existing programs.

While the federal government would be expanding its control and responsibility in education if Obama followed the report's recommendations, it won't necessarily pay all the bills. Depending on how he chooses to fund new programs and authorities, the price tag could reach up to $1 billion per year. That's about 2 percent of the $47 billion the federal government spends on K-12 education. The report says that private foundations, corporations, states and districts can pitch in a share of the price tag.

By creating a national strategy around K-12 STEM education and collaborating with key stakeholders, the United States can achieve the nation's goal of becoming one of the leaders in STEM education.

That's what the report says, but what do you have to say?

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