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Arne Duncan Makes Pitch for More STEM Teachers, New Classroom Technology

Photo: Among stops for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's annual back-to-school bus tour was the Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala. —Photo by Lauren Camera

Huntsville, Ala.

The American public education system needs more science, technology, engineering and math teachers, must do a better job encouraging female students to pursue those fields, and should embrace new technology in the classrooms, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Tuesday afternoon.

Duncan's latest stop on his back-to-school bus tour took him to NASA's space camp here, where he toured the facility and talked about STEM initiatives, including President Barack Obama's call to recruit 100,000 new STEM teachers in the next decade.

The education secretary, who spoke on a panel with a former astronaut and teacher, Richard Arnold, along with two high school students who plan to pursue STEM careers, emphasized the importance of shedding stereotypes, such as "girls aren't good at math or science."

"I think some of the stereotypes—I'm good at this, I'm not good at this, girls don't do that—I think we need to break through that mentality, break through that mind set," Duncan said. "Part of the challenge is that we don't have enough teachers who love the STEM field and who are passionate about it."

In a perfect world, Duncan said, students would have access to Advanced Placement classes in high school that would allow them to earn college credits or, at the very least, classes that give them hands-on experience in a STEM-related field. Without experiencing real-world applications, Duncan said, students have no motivation to pursue studies in STEM.

"Frankly, too many high schools across the country don't have those opportunities," Duncan said. "We have to make sure, regardless of where we live—urban or rural state—that you have access to those right classes."

Duncan also made a pitch for schools to consider ditching textbooks in favor of technology that can be updated in real-time. Schools in the U.S. spend $7 billion to $9 billion each year on textbooks, he noted, and they often arrive to schools already outdated. 

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