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

The Coolest Thing You’ve Heard in a While…

In 2011, Google introduced its first ever science fair that challenged students ages 13-18 to answer the big questions they had about science, life, and how the world works.  Of course, many people have questions, but Google sought out the most curious minds from across the globe that went a step further and actually got answers.  After a long and grueling selection process, three winners were chosen in each of three age groups (13-14, 15-16, 17-18).  Notably and highly encouraging, all three were young women – a gender known for its general underrepresentation in the sciences.

In the 13-14 age group, Lauren Hodge studied the effects of marinades on potentially harmful carcinogens in grilled chicken.  As her prize, she received a $25,000 scholarship and an internship at LEGO.  In the 15-16 age group, Naomi Shah won for her study that showed how changes to indoor environments could improve the lives of asthma patients.  For her efforts, she was also awarded a $25,000 scholarship and a Google internship.  Finally, in the 17-18 age group, Shree Bose wowed the judges with her discovery of a way to improve cancer treatment for patients that have built up resistance to specific chemotherapy drugs.  She was awarded a $50,000 scholarship and an internship with CERN, the world-renowned Geneva-based laboratory that is the leader in particle physics and nuclear research.  The judges were impressed by the girls’  “intellectual curiosity, their tenaciousness and their ambition to use science to find solutions to big problems.” They recently met with President Obama  and also spoke at the TED Women conference in Los Angeles.

In other youth science news – that will also make readers feel quite inadequate – 17-year-old Taylor Wilson recently gave his own brief TED Talk about his short career as a…nuclear physicist? Yes, at the ripe age of 14 he built a nuclear fusion reactor in his garage, a technology he believes will be the future of energy. He has also developed special safety detectors for a few hundred dollars – which normally cost the Department of Homeland Security a few hundred thousand dollars.  Taylor has even found ways to develop medical isotopes at small scale.  He says, “I started out with a dream to make a star in a jar, and I ended up…making things that I think can change the world.”

Much of the debate surrounding science and technology education in the United States is resoundingly negative. Our test scores lag, we produce fewer bachelors and advanced degrees in the sciences, fewer children have a passion for science.  All this, many predict, will lead to America’s innovative decline; we will no longer be able to compete in the area that made our economy so strong.  But seeing competitions like those of Google or First Robotics, the passion shown by those three young women, and the curiosity of Taylor should give pause to those naysayers.  These young people are also evidence of how American institutions like equal opportunity and individual freedom foster what remains the best environment for innovation and creativity the world has ever seen.  They will be the ones to invent the future and are a source of hope and inspiration for America’s competitive future.  Like TED says, these are certainly ideas worth spreading.

Posted by Brian Gowen

Sources: Google, TED, The New York Times, Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program

Photo credit Fayette County Science Fair courtesy of flickr user DrBacchus

President Obama Names Nominee to Lead World Bank

On Friday, March 23, the White House officially nominated Dr. Jim Yong Kim to lead the World Bank.  Currently the president of Dartmouth College – the first Asian American to hold that position at any Ivy League university – Dr. Kim is well-known and highly respected among aid experts for his work in global health and development.  Most notably, he was the former director of the World  Health Organization’s Department of HIV/AIDS where he launched the “3 by 5” initiative, largely regarded as one of the most successful modern global health initiatives.

While at Dartmouth, Dr. Kim launched the Dartmouth Center for Healthcare Delivery Science, which brings together an international network of researchers and practitioners to develop new models of high-quality, low-cost healthcare.  In addition, he instituted the National College Health Improvement Project.  He also co-founded a non-profit called Partners in Health, which provides healthcare to the poor.  An anthropologist and physician by training, Dr. Kim emigrated the United States when he was just five years old.  He went on to Brown University, graduating magna cum laude and earned a medical degree from Harvard Medical School and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard University as well.

Now the frontrunner for the position, Dr. Kim had not been among the names recently tossed about in the policy discourse, nor is he among the most well-known either.  The list of heavy hitters included Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Senator John Kerry, former Treasury Secretary and Obama economic advisor Lawrence Summers, PepsiCo chief Indra Nooyi, and even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  In addition, development expert and Columbia professor Jeffrey Sachs nominated himself for the post.  Developing countries have rallied around two candidates thus far: the Nigerian finance minister and the former Colombian finance minister.

Developing countries, particularly China, continue to press for greater representation in and control over the organization that directly serves them, however it was unlikely that President Obama would have yielded to these demands, especially in an election year.  Although it is wise to encourage the increasing international role of developing nations, the nontraditional support for a non-American could have been a symbol of declining American influence that many Americans are quick to counter.  In this context, the nomination of Dr. Kim is not surprising.  Even though he is an American citizen, his immigrant – specifically Asian – background is significant and perhaps an attempt at appeasement.  Dr. Kim has minimal experience in economics, banking, or policy, so his unconventional background may indeed benefit the organization as it tackles the challenges of 21st-century development.

Posted by: Brian Gowen

Sources: The White House, The New York Times, U.S. News and World Report

Photo Credit:  Los Angeles Times (Andrew Harrer / European Pressphoto Agency)

White House Science Fair

President Barack Obama hosted the second annual White House Science Fair last week. The fair featured original student research and inventions. Thirty student teams were represented by approximately 100 students from over 45 states. Also in attendance were senior Administration officials as well as leading STEM advocates and educators, including Bill Nye and Linda Rosen (CEO of Change the Equation).

The fair honored winners in a broad range of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics competitions across the United States. President Obama made statements address the need for more students to study these critical areas: “When students excel in math and science, they help America compete for the jobs and industries of the future… That’s why I’m proud to celebrate outstanding students at the White House Science Fair, and to announce new steps my Administration and its partners are taking to help more young people succeed in these critical subjects.”

In his address to the attendees, Obama expressly thanked the parents, teachers, and noted the incredible work of the students, who presented work that most of us couldn’t have dreamed of when we were in middle or high school. He also remarked on the importance of recognizing achievements in STEM subjects, especially those of young people.

“The belief that we belong on the cutting edge of innovation, that’s an idea as old as America itself,” Obama said. “We’re a nation of thinkers, dreamers, believers in a better tomorrow.”

The President also announced a few new initiatives to increase the number of students in STEM subjects and prepare teachers to meet the need including:

  • Priority on undergraduate STEM education reform in the President’s upcoming budget, including a $100 million investment by the National Science Foundation to improve undergraduate STEM education practices.
  • A new K-16 education initiative jointly administered by Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to improve math education
  • Commitments from private sector groups and coalitions to do more to get students excited about STEM-related
  • New policies to recruit, support, retain and reward excellent STEM teachers, along with an $80 million investment in the President’s upcoming budget to help prepare effective STEM teachers.
  • A new $22 million investment from the philanthropic and private sector to complement the Administration’s teacher preparation efforts.
  • One million more students graduating with degrees in STEM subjects in the next ten years.

Some of the outstanding research and inventions presented at the fair were: dissolving sugar packets, designed to reduce paper waste; a landmine detecting device; and improvements to Cancer treatments by overcoming chemotherapy resistance. The President also took the time to participate in a few of the projects. Watch the President launch a marshmallow cannon in the State Dining Room.


Posted by: Devon Thorsell


Photo credits: President Obama and participant at the 2010 Science Fair by flickr user cerebus19

2012 State of the Union Address: “An America Built to Last”

On January 24th President Obama gave the 2012 State of the Union address. He highlighted moments of the past year including withdrawing from Iraq, the death of Osama bin Laden, job increases, and a recent increase in “insourcing”- bringing jobs back to America.

“…the CEO of Master Lock told me that it now makes more sense for him to bring jobs back home. Today, for the first time in fifteen years, Master Lock’s unionized plant in Milwaukee is running at full capacity.”

Looking ahead, President Obama focused on manufacturing in America, tax code reform, access to and paying for higher education, and reforming big business. The title of the speech emphasized the importance of American endurance in the future: “An America Built to Last.”

Read the full speech here.

In the President’s remarks on higher education he stressed that “Higher education can’t be a luxury – it’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.” He also urged K-12 schools and teachers “to teach with creativity and passion,” and “stop teaching to the test.”

In regards to the uneven and complex tax code, Obama said “let’s change it.” He spoke at length about reforming the code to give incentives to American companies to keep their manufacturing in the United States and stop rewarding businesses that send jobs overseas. On personal taxes, the President said “if you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes.” He cited Warren Buffett, whose tax rate is lower than that of his secretary, which, according to President Obama doesn’t make sense.

The theme of the evening was “shared responsibility” and doing your “fair share” to make America strong, enduring, and prosperous. The President ended the speech with a reminder that we have a common future and if we “maintain our common resolve…the state of our Union will always be strong.”

See Wilson Center’s Director, President, and CEO Jane Harman’s reaction to the State of the Union.


Posted by: Devon Thorsell

Sources: C-SPAN, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Photo Credit: WWICS/David Hawxhurst

Shaping the Perception of STEM Education

If the economic challenge facing the United States is truly this generation’s “Sputnik moment,” as President Obama suggested in his state of the union address, then the revolution in STEM education fields needs its modern inspirational role models.  In the 1960s, American children looked up to astronauts, idolizing heroes with PhD’s in engineering and science.  Today, STEM proponents hope to revitalize the image of the educated professional in their field to help encourage more young people to choose careers in math and science.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers recently announced funding of $5 million over the next five years as part of an effort to “change public perception of manufacturing” and win more young people over to the field. By funding schools’ STEM programs and advanced learning at summer camps for middle and high school students, these efforts hope to expose children to a number of exciting technology and engineering opportunities available after graduation.

While extra-curricular STEM initiatives add value, some have argued that teachers retain their primacy in shaping how today’s students view math and science.  Presenting to Congress last fall, Karen Klomparens, the Dean of the Graduate School of Michigan State, and Robert Mathieu, chair of the Department of Astronomy and a STEM education researcher at University of Wisconsin, offered data that “90 percent of students that leave STEM disciplines cited bad teaching as a primary reason and 73 percent of those who stayed also complained about the poor teaching.”  Both credited the amazing breakthroughs made by research at universities, but argued that an added emphasis on teaching would help retain more students in STEM courses through the graduate level.

Posted by: John Coit


Photo Credit: Science Careers in Search of Women 2009 by flickr user Argonne National Laboratory

Tax Policy, Innovation, and Job Creation

As the American economy looks to recover from the crippling unemployment of the last few years, both states and the federal government are proposing expanded tax credits for research and development to help spur job growth. The current federal R&D (or “R&E”) tax break of 14% is set to expire at the end of the year, and President Obama has proposed to extend the credit and expand it to 20%.  A Treasury Department report released last week forecasted that the new policy would attract “nearly 1 million research workers” by creating a positive environment for innovation and closing tax loopholes that “incentivize investment in overseas jobs.”

The Obama strategy hopes to encourage high-paying research jobs to take root in the United States in an effort to keep the research climate in America internationally competitive.   A bipartisan group of congressmen is supporting the American Research and Competitiveness Act, co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Larson of Connecticut, and Republicans Erick Paulsen of Minnesota, and Kevin Brady and Michael McCaul of Texas.

At a nanotechnology factory in Arkansas, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner touted the new plan as “part of a comprehensive reform of the corporate tax system to make American companies more competitive.  Reform that eliminates loopholes and preferences, lowers the tax rate on investments in the United States, and replaces a complicated muck of temporary provisions, with a more powerful, but more targeted set of permanent incentives, like the R&E tax credit.”

Not all levels of government embrace the expansion of R&D tax incentives, however, as last week New Hampshire voted down a doubling of its tax break citing its tight budgetary situation.  Should the federal measure become law, a report by Information Technology and Innovation Fund predicts it will create “162,000 jobs in the short run,” a $66 billion increase in GDP and 4,000 new patents. Larry Irving, vice president of Global Government Affairs at HP announced his company’s support for the bill, which “would support our efforts as we look to innovate for the future.”

Posted by: John Coit

Sources: Houston Chronicle,, Treasury Department, , The Union Leader, Wall Street Journal

Photo Credit: The Atlantic’s “Finding Work, Finding Our Way: Building the Economy and Jobs of the Future” town hall event, 2/9/2011 posted by flickr user U.S. Treasury Department