Prospects for a “STEM Teacher Master Corps”

In late July, the Obama administration announced a plan to create a “STEM Teacher Master Corps”, a corps of teachers specializing in science and math fields who would lead community and local efforts to improve STEM education in schools.  The teachers would be chosen by local school officials to “lead professional development [courses], mentorship activities, and  regularly contribute new lesson plans and strategies to transform and improve science and math teaching,” in exchange for a $20,000 per year bonus, according to Robert Rodriguez, a special assistant to President Obama for education.  The program would start with 50 selected teachers and expand to 10,000 in four years.  The program was originally recommended in a 2010 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

The White House, along with the administration’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, has consistently emphasized the importance of the STEM fields in the overall approach to education in the 21st century.  “If America is going to compete for the jobs and industries of tomorrow, we need to make sure our children are getting the best education possible,” Obama said in a statement. “Teachers matter, and great teachers deserve our support.”  Sec. Duncan pointed out that American students lag behind most other industrialized countries, including China, South Korea, Japan, and  most  of Europe in the STEM fields.

The program is dependent on funding from Congress and comes with a $1 billion price tag, making its prospects questionable at best.  The money is included in Obama’s 2013 budget request being considered by Congress.  Democrats tried to secure funding for a similar program last year, but the proposal did not reach the House or Senate floors.  Both Sec. Duncan and the White House emphasized the bipartisan recognition that progress is needed in STEM for American competitiveness and that local and state support for such a program is essential but they may be overestimating how far that bipartisan consensus will take them.  An aide to Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, told the Associated Press, the federal government already has more than 80 teacher quality programs and questioned the wisdom of pouring more money into another program that might not add anything new — or effective — to improve education.  Further, the announcement comes on the heels of a House Appropriations sub-committee vote approving a bill that would dismantle three key elements of Obama’s education reform plan: Race To The Top, the School Improvement Grant program, and the Investing In Innovation (i3)  program.

Posted by: Sean Norris

Sources: NBC News, US News and World Report, The Atlantic

Photo Credit:Science Lab” courtesy of flickr user Jose Kevo

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