There is no doubt that science, math, and technology are becoming increasingly relevant as the 21st century unfolds, and President-elect Barack Obama has made it clear that he wants to focus on improving education in these areas.
In a 2007 speech in New Hampshire, Obama emphasized his understanding of the issue: “In this kind of economy, countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow,” Obama said. “Already, China is graduating eight times as many engineers as we are. By twelfth grade, our children score lower on math and science tests than most other kids in the world. And we now have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation in the world.”
Obama’s proposed changes to science and math education center on teacher recruitment and improvements to science instruction and assessments. Additionally, Obama proposes a heavy investment in classroom and education technology. Here’s an overview of the plan:
Recruit High-Quality Math and Science Teachers
Obama’s Teaching Service Scholarship program will prioritize recruiting math, science, and technology degree graduates; the Teacher Residency Program will supply teachers in these high-needs subject areas. Obama’s plan to stimulate Professional Development Schools will help new science and math teachers, or veteran teachers needing to hone their skills, learn from professionals in the field.
Enhanced Science Instruction
Obama will work with governors to create flexible and workable systems for the states to achieve the goal of ensuring all children have access to strong science curriculum at all grade levels. Obama will also support state efforts to make science education a priority at the pre-k level.
Improve and Prioritize Science Assessments
Obama will work with governors and educators to ensure that state assessments measure test inquiry and higher-order thinking skills including inference, logic, data analysis and interpretation, forming questions, and communication. Improvements to assessments will also include developing tests that call for students to design and conduct investigations, analyze and present data, and write up and defend results.
Technology Investment Fund
Obama will build on existing federal education technology programs and create a $500 million matching fund to ensure technology is fully integrated throughout schools. This fund will:
- Integrate technology throughout the classroom so innovative learning technologies can assist in improving the quality of learning and instruction.
- Develop technology-based student assessments that allow teachers and parents to identify and focus on individual needs and talents throughout the school year.
- Create new technology-based curriculum with leaders in the technology industry so schools can create courses around developing high-demand technology skills and working on authentic projects.
- Use technology to allow teachers to work collaboratively with their peers across the country to share best practices and support teachers to provide more individualized assistance to students.
Leaders in science, math, and tech education are encouraged by the proposed changes. “He’s planning on putting money behind these areas,” says Shari Liss, Education Director for Industry Initiatives for Science and Math Education (IISME). “Times are pretty exciting actually. It’s a real change from the Bush administration.”
Liss explains that much of the current problem with science, math, and tech education is tied to No Child Left Behind (NCLB). “In NCLB there has been a focus on teaching to tests, without a goal of true learning,” Liss says. “The Obama initiatives are written to support educators, reward innovation, tie in real-world connections, and focus on inquiry-based learning while enhancing and strengthening math, science and technology curriculum.”
Others, such as Vance Ablott, Executive Director of Triangle Coalition, are cautiously optimistic. Triangle Coalition works with policymakers, business leaders, and leaders in education to improve the quality and outcome of mathematics, science, and technology education. Ablott says Obama's plan is important. “He is committed to seeing an increase in science and math and tech education, and I think all of us are hopeful that that’s going to translate into a focus on the budget side,” he says.
Ablott, who also serves on the STEM Education Caucus steering committees for both the House and the Senate, is also realistic. “He’s proposing a lot of money, but given the current financial situation, I don’t know where that money comes from,” Ablott says. “It’s the right direction, the right words—we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Obama points to New York’s Math for America as an example of a program that has been successful in training highly qualified math teachers and placing them in high-needs schools. Ablott is uncertain about the feasibility of scaling up programs such as this on a national level.
“All we can hope for at the federal level is that you can incentivize states to implement these programs,” Ablott says. “You’re stuck with the limitations of the current education system, though. How that gets implemented across the country, I don’t know. And some states may or may not have the funding to do that sort of programming.”
Shari Liss agrees that funding is of concern. “Everything always sounds good for kids,” Liss says. “Now it’s just a matter of funding, isn't it?”
With the inauguration only a few weeks away, many parents and educators across the country are intently awaiting a fresh start to the New Year, when promises will finally be backed up with funding decisions.
What are Obama's other plans for education? Check out Obama on College Funding, Obama on Early Childhood Education, Obama on NCLB, Obama on School Choice, and Obama on Teacher Recruitment and Retention.