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Obama Touts STEM Education Report, New Initiatives

At a White House event today, President Obama once again promoted the importance of improving STEM education, highlighting a new report with recommendations for stepping up the federal role, as well as some new private initiatives.

"Everybody in this room understands that our nation's success depends on strengthening America's role as the world's engine of discovery and innovation," he said at the gathering with CEOs, scientists, teachers, and others. "And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today—especially in science, technology, engineering, and math."

He noted a new report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology: "Today, my science advisory board ... released a set of recommendations to recruit and train more great teachers over the next decade and to promote breakthrough innovation in math and science education. ... There are so many promising ideas out there, proven ideas, that can work if we apply the will to it."

He said leaders at the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education would take a close look at the recommendations "and start figuring out how to implement them." (For more on this report, check out my blog post from earlier this week.)

Obama then touted some new initiatives to expand the Educate to Innovate campaign, a public-private partnership first announced by the president in 2009.

"Last year, I challenged scientists and business leaders to think of creative ways to engage young people in math and science," he said. "And now they are answering the call. All across this country, companies and nonprofits are coming together to replicate successful science programs."

In particular, he touted the new organization, Change the Equation.

"It brings together a coalition of more than a hundred CEOs from the nation's largest companies who are committed to bring innovative math and science programs to at least a hundred high-need communities over the next year," he said.

Mr. Obama also announced several other new commitments. For a list of them all, check out this White House press release.

Yesterday, I spoke with the CEO of Change the Equation, Linda Rosen, to learn more about this particular effort. (If her name sounds familiar to some readers, here's why: Her resume includes former stints as the executive director of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and a senior adviser to former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley in math and science.)

The new nonprofit is billed by organizers as a "CEO-led initiative" to cultivate widespread STEM literacy. The core idea is to help member companies, of which there were 105 at last count, improve and expand their work in advancing STEM education.

"We have over 100 companies" involved, Rosen told me. "It is a CEO-to-CEO network, so we've got the attention in these companies at the very highest level."

The group has three key goals: improve STEM teaching at all grade levels; get young people "jazzed up about the STEM disciplines," in Rosen's words; and achieve a sustained commitment to the STEM movement from business leaders, government, teachers, and others through what a press release calls "communication, collaboration, and data-based decisionmaking."

Early on, the group's agenda is to:
• Create a snapshot of existing STEM investments by members companies;
• Devise a state-by-state scorecard to assess the condition of STEM education nationwide;
• Craft a self-evaluation mechanism for member companies to measure the effectiveness of their STEM programs; and
• Launch what the press release calls "an ambitious plan to initiate a core set of very effective programs in 100 new sites across the country to broaden the philanthropic reach of the organization's members."

Initial funding came from challenge grants provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, matched by giving from the founding companies, which include Intel Corp., Xerox, Sally Ride Science, Eastman Kodak, and Time Warner Cable.

Rosen said the organization itself will have a fairly small staff, no more than "five or six people," but hopes to draw extensively on the expertise and resources of the member companies. It already has $5 million pledged for year one of its operations, she said.

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