Making good on remarks made last April before the National Academy of Sciences, President Obama officially launched an "Educate to Innovate" campaign to engage and improve the performance of America’s students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Flanked by science and policy officials including astronaut Sally Ride, the President noted that many of our problems are at root scientific, and spoke of a new, comprehensive series of STEM programs to address them:
The key to meeting these challenges – improving our health and well being, harnessing clean energy, protecting our security, and succeeding in the global economy – will be reaffirming and strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation. And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today, especially in those fields that hold the promise of producing future innovations and innovators ... [Full text below]The President concluded with:
Melody Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council for the President, was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me and added several comments which I thought were particularly insightful. Note that this is a personal transcript representing my notes and best recollection. Any errors are solely my responsibility:
Math and science teachers tell me that kids start out as natural scientists in primary/elementary school, but that we seem to lose a lot of them starting in middle school, does the STEM do anything about that?
Director Melody Barnes: You're right. My colleagues in education have talked about that as well. Some of the programs with partnerships announced today involve meeting students where they live and finding out first hand from students and teachers what excites them now and capitalize on that. If a student is interested in music for example, we'll introduce the science involved. Likewise, children love cell phones, lots of science there! We can capitalize on it as well. We're going to hold science fairs at the White House for students of many ages; teachers and students will be able to demonstrate their ingenuity. By making science more fun, rewarding, and cool, together with meeting our other benchmarks, the President's initiative will not only retain that early interest, we will build on it. [Full Q & A here or below]
The president seemed to recognize that teachers are the single most important resource to a child’s learning. Saying in part "We will ensure that teachers are supported as professionals in the classroom, while also holding them more accountable." Can you speak to that and does this signal a break with NCLB?President Obama Nov 23, 2009, as prepared for delivery:
Director Melody Barnes: I should state clearly, the President is very focused on this initiative. The President is also a parent; he is watching his own daughters' progress in school, and this is something be believes in strongly.
Teachers are the single most important resource in a child's education and the President campaigned on strengthening our schools. The STEM plays an important role in that strategy. Also embedded in the STEM are solutions to the critical need for teachers – in this program that means more science and math teachers. We are developing ways to make sure teachers have the certification needed (And reflected in No Child Left Behind). We're also developing and implementing ways to better evaluate student performance, and helping teachers stay up to par in providing exciting classrooms. We will support teachers, administrators and others with new resources and put more work into forging a connection with their work and student performance. One of the most exciting parts of all this is bringing in the private sector, both for resources and to show students what science and technology can mean for them and for the nation. What is a lab? It can be a place for children to feel excited about science.
So we want to look beyond the NCLB threshold and find even better ways to evaluate student and teacher performance.
Related to the above, math and science teachers tell me that kids start out as natural scientists in primary/elementary school, but that we seem to lose a lot of them starting in middle school, does the STEM do anything about that?
You're right. My colleagues in education have talked about that as well. Some of the programs with partnership announced today involve meeting students where they live and finding out first hand from students and teachers what excites them now and capitalize on that. If a student is interested in music for example, we'll introduce the science involved. Likewise, children love cell phones, lots of science there! We can capitalize on it as well. We're going to hold science fairs at the White House for students of many ages; teachers and students will be able to demonstrate their ingenuity. By making science more fun, rewarding, and cool, together with meeting our other benchmarks, the President's initiative will not only retain that early interest, we will build on it.
Inner cities and some low income rural areas experience a higher than average high school drop out rate, will this have any programs that might intervene in that loss?
Related to the above, if we can keep them engaged, they're less likely to drop out. In our 2010 budget we proposed a drop out intervention fund, graduating more and more students form high school. For those that have or do drop out, yes, we have to assist them to reenter, inclduing older students, even 18 or 19 who need to start at tenth grade. We'll work with community leaders and teachers to find ways to keep them in school and then develop ways to bring those who have dropped out back in. Community colleges will be key to getting students the credentials they need to go to college.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Only that this is something that is of great importance to the President and the result of many months of working with the National Academy of Science, educators, and other key experts. We announced it today but we've all been working on it from the beginning. Your readers can expect a sustained push in this area for years to come.
I’m excited to have you all here today. I want to thank the young people joining us, including students from Oakton High School. They’ll be demonstrating the “Cougar Cannon,” designed to scoop up and toss moon rocks. I’m eager to see what this thing can do – for two reasons. As President, I believe robotics can inspire young people to pursue science and engineering. And I want to keep an eye on the robots, in case they try anything.
It’s an honor to be joined by Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and a person who has inspired a generation of girls and boys to think bigger and set their sights higher. I want to thank NASA for providing this interactive globe – an innovative and engaging way of teaching young people about our world. Welcome, Mythbusters; I hope you guys left the explosives at home. And finally, allow me to thank the many leaders here today who have agreed to be part of this historic effort to inspire and educate a new generation in math and science.
We live in a world of unprecedented perils and unparalleled potential. Our medical system holds the promise of unlocking new cures – but it’s attached to a health care system that is bankrupting families, businesses, and our government. The sources of energy that power our economy also endanger our planet. We confront threats to our security that seek to exploit the very openness that is essential to our prosperity. And we face challenges in a global marketplace that link the trader on Wall Street to the homeowner on Main Street, and the office worker in America to the factory worker in China – an economy in which we all share in opportunity, but also share in crisis.
The key to meeting these challenges – improving our health and wellbeing, harnessing clean energy, protecting our security, and succeeding in the global economy – will be reaffirming and strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation. And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today, especially in those fields that hold the promise of producing future innovations and innovators. That’s why education in science and math is so important.
But the hard truth is that for decades we’ve been losing ground. One assessment shows American fifteen year olds now ranked 21st in science and 25th in math when compared to their peers around the world. This isn’t news. We’ve seen worrying statistics like this for years. Yet, time and again, we’ve let partisanship and petty bickering stand in the way of progress. Time and again, as a nation, we’ve let our children down. Well, I am here – and you are here – because we cannot allow division and indifference to imperil our position in the world. It’s time for all of us – in Washington and across America – to take responsibility for our future.
That’s why I am committed to moving our country from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math education over the next decade. To meet this goal, the Recovery Act included the largest investment in education in history while preventing hundreds of thousands of educators from being fired because of state budget shortfalls. And under our outstanding Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, we’ve launched a $4 billion “Race to the Top” fund, one of the largest investments in education reform in history.
Through Race to the Top, states won’t just receive funding; they’ll have to compete for funding. And in this competition, producing the most innovative programs in math and science will be an advantage. In addition, we are challenging states to improve achievement by raising standards, using data to better inform decisions, and taking new approaches to turn around struggling schools. And because a great teacher is the single most important factor in a great education, we’re asking states to focus on teacher effectiveness and to make it possible for professionals – like many of the folks in this room – to bring their experience and enthusiasm into the classroom.
But you are here because you know that the success we seek will not be attained by government alone. It depends on the dedication of students and parents, and the commitment of private citizens, organizations, and companies. It depends on all of us. That’s why, back in April, at the National Academy of Sciences, I issued a challenge: to encourage folks to think of new and creative ways of engaging young people in science and engineering. We are here because the leaders in this room answered that call to action.
Today, we are launching the “Educate to Innovate” campaign, a nationwide effort to help reach the goal this administration has set: moving to the top in science and math education in the next decade. We’ve got leaders from private companies and universities, foundations and non-profits, and organizations representing millions of scientists, engineers, and teachers from across America. The initial commitment of the private sector to this campaign is more than $260 million – and we only expect the campaign to grow.
Business leaders from Intel, Xerox, Kodak, and Time Warner Cable are teaming up with Sally Ride, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation to find and replicate successful science, math, and technology programs all across America. Sesame Street has begun a two-year initiative to teach young kids about math and science. And Discovery Communications is going to deliver interactive science content to 60,000 schools reaching 35 million students.
These efforts extend beyond the classroom. Time Warner Cable is joining with the Coalition for Science After School and FIRST Robotics – the program created by inventor Dean Kamen, which gave us the “Cougar Cannon” – to connect one million students with fun after-school activities, like robotics competitions. The MacArthur Foundation and industry leaders like Sony are launching a nationwide challenge to design compelling, freely-available, science-related video games. And organizations representing teachers, scientists, mathematicians, and engineers – joined by volunteers in the community – are participating in a grassroots effort called “National Lab Day” to reach ten million young people with hands-on learning. Students will launch rockets, construct miniature windmills, and get their hands dirty. They will have the chance to build and create and maybe destroy just a little bit – to see the promise of being the makers of things, not just the consumers of things.
The administration is participating as well. We’ve already had a number of science-focused events with young people at the White House, including Astronomy Night a few weeks ago. The National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, under the leadership of a terrific scientist, Steven Chu, have launched an initiative to inspire tens of thousands of students to pursue careers in clean energy.
And today, I’m announcing that we’re going to have an annual science fair at the White House with the winners of national competitions in science and technology. If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you are a young person and you’ve produced the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement too. Scientists and engineers ought to stand side-by-side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House we’re going to lead by example. We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.
Through these efforts, we are going to expand the scope and scale of science and math education all across America. And we’re going to expand opportunities for all of our young people – including women and minorities who too often have been underrepresented in scientific and technological fields, but who are no less capable of succeeding in math and science and pursuing careers that will help improve our lives and grow our economy. I also want to note: this is only the beginning. We’re going to challenge the private sector to partner with community colleges, for example, to help train the workers of today for the jobs of tomorrow, even as we make college more affordable – so that, by 2020, America once again leads the world in producing college graduates.
Of course, we can’t let students off the hook. In the end, the success of this campaign depends on them. But I believe strongly that America’s young people will rise to the challenge if given the opportunity. We’ve just got to work together to create those opportunities – because our future depends on it. Everyone in this room understands how important science and math can be. And it goes beyond the facts in a biology textbook or the questions on an algebra quiz. It’s about our ability to understand our world: to harness and train that human capacity to solve problems and think critically, a set of skills that informs the decisions we make throughout our lives.
Yes, improving education in math and science is about producing engineers and researchers, scientists and innovators, who will help transform our economy and our lives for the better. But it is also about something more. It’s about expanding opportunity for all Americans in a world where an education is increasingly the key to success. It’s about an informed citizenry in an era when many of the problems we face as a nation are, at root, scientific problems. And it’s about the power of science to not only unlock new discoveries, but to unlock in the minds of our young people a sense of promise, a sense that with just a little hard work – with just a little effort – they have the potential to achieve extraordinary things.
This is a difficult time for our country. And it would be easy to grow cynical, to wonder if America’s best days are behind us – especially at a time of economic uncertainty, especially when we have seen so many, from Wall Street to Washington, fail to take responsibility for so long. But I believe we have an opportunity now to move beyond the failures of the recent past – to recapture that spirit of American innovation and optimism. For this nation wasn’t built on greed and reckless risk, on short-term gains and short-sighted policies. It was forged of stronger stuff, by bold men and women who dared to invent something new or improve something old – who took big chances on big ideas, who believed that in America all things are possible. That is our history. And, if we remain fixed on the work ahead, if we build on the progress we’ve made today, this will be our legacy as well.
Thank you all very much.