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Obama Kicks Off Massive Science Education Effort 801

In a speech at the White House today, President Obama launched a new campaign, "Educate to Innovate," designed to get American students fired up about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The full text of the speech is also available on "The new campaign builds on the President's Inaugural Address, which included a vow to put science 'in its rightful place.' One of those rightful places, of course, is the classroom. Yet too often our schools lack support for teachers or the other resources needed to convey the practical utility and remarkable beauty of science and engineering. As a result, students become overwhelmed in their classes and ultimately disengaged. They lose, and our nation loses too. The partnerships launched today aim to change that. They respond to a challenge made by the President in April, when he spoke at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences and asked the nation's philanthropists, professional and educational societies, corporations, and individuals to collaborate and innovate with the goal of reinvigorating America's STEM educational enterprise. The partnerships announced today — dramatic commitments in the hundreds of millions of dollars, generated through novel collaborations and creative outreach activities — are just the first wave of commitments anticipated in response to his call."
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Obama Kicks Off Massive Science Education Effort

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  • by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:01PM (#30205890) Journal

    America's artistic value continues to decline with each hollywood blockbuster to be released. No studies whatsoever have been made to test if it could possibly be correlated to poor schooling in the fields of Language Arts, Drama/Theatre, and Humanitarian studies.

    Up Next, a story about how a 3 legged dog saved a baby.

    • by Shadow of Eternity ( 795165 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:06PM (#30205962)

      In other news politicians still haven't made the connection between an arbitrary and inherently abusive disciplinary system of absolute authority with no accountability or responsibility layed over the top of a system of "education" designed around teaching students to do well on a few standardized tests and students becoming "disengaged".

      Ditch zero tolerance and standardized tests and the problem will solve itself.

      • by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:19PM (#30206138) Homepage
        Ditch zero tolerance and standardized tests and the problem will solve itself.

        Even better, ditch the Department of Education with its centralized planning, heavy handed bureaucracy and one-size-fits-nobody policies and return the control of education to local school boards. Let them decide for themselves what's right for their district and what isn't because no two school districts are alike, and what works for one fails for another.

        • by dreamt ( 14798 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:35PM (#30206356)

          Yeah, after all, it was the DoE's fault that Kansas wanted to teach creationism - oh, wait, that was the Kansas board of education.

        • by wanerious ( 712877 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:45PM (#30206484) Homepage
          I'm honestly having trouble coming up with an example of how, say, some item in a math curriculum is "right" for one district and not another. I might be on your side if there were actual experts in the fields making decisions on school boards instead of, for example, policemen and dentists deciding what a biology curriculum should include. Substituting experts making decisions on a national scale is a pretty good idea.
          • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @06:05PM (#30206782) Journal

            >>>Substituting experts making decisions on a national scale is a pretty good idea.

            Perhaps but it's not authorized. "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." In other words the right to regulate education belongs to your local State government, until you expand the Constitution with an amendment.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Fallen Kell ( 165468 )
          Unfortunately if that was done, we would see things like Evolution removed or taught next to Intelligent Design as though Intelligent Design was a leading scientific accepted theory.
        • by altoz ( 653655 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:47PM (#30206540)

          Blaming the DoE, standardized tests and zero tolerance for education failure is like blaming extra paper cups for the bankruptcy of Enron. It might contribute, but it isn't the big problem.

          There are tons of other countries with bigger standardized tests, even less tolerance and bigger departments of education with more heavy-handed bureaucracy that produce way more scientists per capita. Look at any east Asian country, for instance.

          The big problem is really obvious. It's the quality of teachers. And it's not that the teachers are bad per se, it's that they're unmotivated to do better. Teacher's unions make it so that you get paid on years on the job and tenure, not how well you teach. Decoupling rewards with results in this way has been the single worst decision in education in this country.

          Look at most charter schools. They flourish. Why? Because the teachers are motivated to teach well, not just do well until they get to tenure status.

          • by bugnuts ( 94678 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @06:23PM (#30207050) Journal

            The big problem is really obvious. It's the quality of teachers.

            It's not that obvious, nor that's the primary reason. It certainly might be contributing reason, but it's also unfair to a ton of good public teachers out there.

            I think the pres touched on the real reasons: demand for a good education by the parents. It's really the quality of parents that's the problem, not the quality of teachers. The parents don't value science, and neither will their kids. If they did, more people would enter the field. If parents demanded good educations, they would not tolerate poor teachers. They would also want teachers to get more money to be retained.

            Charter schools flourish because of the parents. Non-religious charter schools will lose all their students if they try to teach creationism as science, while religious schools might lose a good portion if they did the opposite. This is why charter schools flourish -- they teach what the parents want taught. When you shove them all together in a public school, you get conflicting parental desires for education, and then everything goes to hell.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by CodeBuster ( 516420 )

              and then everything goes to hell.

              that only happens in religious schools, in public schools it just creates a mess.

          • I'll readily agree with you that we have some lousy teachers, but the problems go far beyond them. Unions sink any disruptive reform that threatens their status or wealth, for instance. But there are deep structural problems with our very method of education, starting with the education major itself in colleges. We should frankly chuck education degrees for junior high and high school teaching. And there's no getting around the fact that education majors in most colleges are almost always from the lowest tier of ACT/SAT scores. We could debate all day about the virtues and vices of government involvement in education.

            But equally as big is the problem of students and their parents. Frankly, lots of people simply don't care about schooling. Many parents see school mainly as a place to get rid of their kids for 7 hours a day. Most kids see school as a chore to be endured, from one degree to another.

            Look at countries like Finland, where they spend less per pupil and less on facilities than we do. Their kids spend fewer days in school per year and fewer hours in class per day, and fewer years in what we would call the K-12 system. And yet they outgain US kids in all phases of standardized testing. Why? Simply put, there's a culture of responsibility.

            Until we find a way to change attitudes among parents and kids, all of the money and legislation in the world won't make a difference.

          • by indytx ( 825419 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @09:06PM (#30208982)


            The big problem is really obvious. It's the quality of teachers. And it's not that the teachers are bad per se, it's that they're unmotivated to do better. Teacher's unions make it so that you get paid on years on the job and tenure, not how well you teach. Decoupling rewards with results in this way has been the single worst decision in education in this country.

            Look at most charter schools. They flourish. Why? Because the teachers are motivated to teach well, not just do well until they get to tenure status.

            Unions are NOT the problem. The unions in Europe are incredibly strong, probably much stronger than any teachers unions in the U.S. [] Why don't we put the blame on teacher training and certification instead. How else can you explain how 16% of U.S. science teachers are creationists? []

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by moosesocks ( 264553 )

            You could easily test that hypothesis by comparing educational outcomes in states with teachers unions to those without.

            In most cases, non-union states pay their teachers like sh*t, and educational outcomes are somewhat poorer.

            I'm not going to argue that unions are perfect in their current form -- they can and often do start to act in their own interests rather than those of their members. In other cases (ie. the autoworkers) unions can become too powerful, and force their parent industry out of business.


        • Funny you should propose that, it was proposed in the brilliant Yes Prime Minister series.

          See below:


        • by catchblue22 ( 1004569 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @06:52PM (#30207550) Homepage

          With our modern obsession with applicability and utility, where nothing seems to mean anything unless it makes money, we need to remember what science really is. Science isn't just a collection of facts. It isn't just an engine of economic growth. Science is above all a method of exposing nonsense for what it is. Science provides a method for anyone to identify truth from nonsense. When a dispute arises over whose assertions about the physical world are correct, we all agree to look to the physical world as the ultimate arbiter of truth, not to a priest, nor a CEO, nor a minister. Science cannot prove truth. It can only disprove nonsense.

          If we, as citizens of a democracy, lose the ability to tell nonsense from truth, then our civilization is in trouble.

      • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:28PM (#30206272) Journal

        You know I think they (meaning the government) have this backwards. Engineering and science is FUN. You get to learn all kinds of neat facts, and do cool projects like building solar-powered cabins or toy cars while going through your high school & college courses.

        It's the real world that sucks. I enjoyed my engineering/science right up to the point where I graduated, and they stuck me in a little tiny cubicle, by myself, staring at boring code and schematics. Day-after-day. Week-after-week. Year-after-year.

        That's when it stopped being fun.

        • You have a good point about the tedium pace and monotony of our day to day jobs. As a recent college grad I feel exactly where you are coming from. So I have a question for you, or anyone else on here who has some ideas. How do we fix that as well? How do reengineer the workplace structure, at any level, to make work less suck and more awesome? Honestly, I am not asking to troll, I am seriously curious. I don't have an least not a full one. I have some ideas, but I would be interested in other f
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            Well most engineers like interacting with people, especially when solving problems, so rather than assigning one problem per engineer... try assigning one problem to a TEAM of engineers. And it doesn't have to be every day; twice a year ought to be enough where you have a "team project".

            Also, why not send engineers on sales calls, so they can meet the people who desire the product?

            And finally let engineers have freedom. On my last job I had to account for every 0.1 tick of the clock. If I wasn't working

        • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:59PM (#30206728) Homepage
          Well, you fool. You made the classic mistake.

          You grew up.

          Don't ever do that.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by bmsleight ( 710084 )

          True, Engineering is Fun. In the UK we already have a STEM net. [] I am an Engineering professional, who goes in to schools as an STEM Ambassador, (alas do not get the chocolates []).

          I try and explain how much fun it is to have a real job as an Engineer. We have a real shortage of young people who consider doing engineering at all levels as a career. From spending all day outside fixing traffic lights, to spending multi-million pounds on engneering contracts. Engineer is a

      • by Anonymous Coward

        To you and people who think like that (sibling post by techno-vampire going even further in this)... I'd like to note that there is a reason why we need standardized tests. If each school acts on it's own, some might become better than now, others worse. You could look at two people's papers and not know how good they are compared to each other unless you are well familiar of quality of every school in the country. We really need standardized tests to fix this, to give some guideline with which to compare s

  • Easier solution: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:05PM (#30205940)

    Massive cash awards to US scientists. These kids choose not to go into science because it is not cool. Why is it not cool? Lots of hardwork and small incomes. If you give scientists boat loads of money, they become cool.

    Instead we will waste another $huge_amount dollars on some lame education effort only to have the kids still want to be Kobe Bryant, or Dr. Dre.

    • Re:Easier solution: (Score:5, Informative)

      by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:09PM (#30205996) Journal

      It's true - when growing up I was among the more technically inclined kids and thus was slightly interested in computer sciences. While programming was fun I wasn't sure if its what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

      However, when I was old enough to start looking at the numbers, I realized it was a good field to get into. Little Post secondary required to land a high paying job.

      When scientific research reaches such a status, I'm sure the same thing will happen. A handful of people I know wish they could become theoretical physicists, but because the money isn't there, they go into Engineering.

  • by wiresquire ( 457486 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:08PM (#30205978) Journal

    Now we can give Obama the Nobel prize for Chemistry and Physics as well!


  • fired up, huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:09PM (#30205988)

    ...designed to get American students fired up about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

    No offense, Mr. President, but you want to know what really gets us fired up about those things? Getting paid for it. There are a select few of us that are willing to work for peanuts making the world a better place, spending hours working intractable problems, and sacrificing our social and sex lives all for the sake of The Greater Good. The rest of us -- we want to be paid for our work. The work isn't glamorous -- it's demanding, thankless, and for most requires an expensive education that they aren't reimbursed for. This field in particular (information technology) was gutted about seven years ago under the last administration in the name of short term profits. There is no R&D budget left for innovation, and not much has happened that's revolutionary in this industry since the bubble burst.

    If you want to showcase our science and technology, start by making this country the best place to be for it once again -- rather than watching as Europe turns on the LHC while ours sits half-finished in Texas. Send some money to the Department of Energy to fund some physics over here. Give some grant money out so we can deploy a successor to the internet that doesn't suck, controlled by private interests who only want to sell us viagra, cheap thrills, pay per view, and piss-poor last mile connections. Put us back in space, which was once a source of national pride and now languishes as an embarassment. And cancel Enterprise -- goddamn that show sucks!

    • bucks (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheMeuge ( 645043 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:22PM (#30206176)

      Not going to happen.

      A post-doc doing biomedical research (which is the highest-paid field) makes $40k at NYU. This is after spending 4 years in college, and then doing research for 6 years making a $25k/year stipend. With a conversion rate of under 1 percent for faculty positions (which don't pay that much more anyway), why in the world would anyone actually do that to themselves?! You'd have to be REALLY driven to want to work 60+ hour weeks, under the perpetual stress of having your grant pulled, for less than subway ticket clerks make.

      Even better, in our new future we'll hamstring doctors and nurses pay, and make sure that nobody gives a damn about that kind of science too.

      As for physics and chemistry (and I am not even talking about Mathematics), we've already driven them into the ground. No need to worry any further.

      • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:33PM (#30206342)

        As for physics and chemistry (and I am not even talking about Mathematics), we've already driven them into the ground. No need to worry any further.

        The problem is there just isn't a big market for science. I really can't advise anyone to take science at all. Not for money anyway.

        There is however a big market for Quants.


  • Mythbusters (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mr100percent ( 57156 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:12PM (#30206038) Homepage Journal

    Adam Savage from Mythbusters was present, and twittered [] about the day's event, including being mentioned in Obama's speech and even posted a photo or two of meeting him and Dean Kamen.

  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:12PM (#30206040) Homepage Journal
    I really think someone should bring back Public Service Announcement education (a la "Schoolhouse Rock") in a big way. Keep the lessons small and bite-sized, fit them into 30 second spots. Just keep banging away simple concepts that are aimed at middle-schoolers and adults who forgot all of that stuff. Using simple math to figure out gallons of paint required for a wall of a given size. Linking fuel purchased to pollution created in numbers. Explaining the difference between anecdotes versus statistical norms, like the recent breast-cancer-screening recommendations. Illustrating the kinds of technology Europe, Asia and the Americas had in 1400 AD or 1600 AD or 1800 AD. Heck, even just quoting and explaining each of the Constitutional Amendments during shows like "24 Hours" or "CSI" would have a profound impact in the long run.
  • stem cells (Score:5, Funny)

    by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:13PM (#30206044) Homepage

    We should set up small groups around the country to independently engage in the study of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math... call them STEM Cells, and watch the right-wingers line up to ban funding them, on reflex.

  • by fiendo ( 217830 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:13PM (#30206052)
    Unless the proposal includes some tactics for getting the parents involvement, it'll be doomed before it starts. Education happens outside of the classroom just as much as in it and a child's mindset regarding education (no matter the field) is strongly influenced by their parents' mindset.
    • by QuoteMstr ( 55051 ) <> on Monday November 23, 2009 @06:38PM (#30207312)

      You say parents won't be involved, and therefore this initiative is doomed. Therefore we shouldn't even try. And since we can't compel parents to do better, let's sit on our thumbs. That's not an argument. That's an excuse.

      Go to hell. We need better education in this country, and if parents can't be bothered, then schools must take up the slack. Old approaches not working? Then let's try some new ones. Let's think of a better way to tackle the problem! We can do it!

      Americans used to be famous world-wide for a "can-do" attitude: we used to look at a problem and think of ways to fix it. These days, we have defeatism embedded in our culture. People like you and most of my other countrymen look at a problem and think "ah, that's hard. Crap. Let me go back to World of Warcraft."

      Get up off your ass and start thinking of solutions. Get rid of that defeatist attitude.

  • Parents . . . (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:14PM (#30206060)

    Parents, parents, parents.

    They are in the best position (or should be!) to motivate their kids. If they can't, no billion dollar program will either.

    • Re:Parents . . . (Score:5, Interesting)

      by beej ( 82035 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:31PM (#30206318) Homepage Journal

      When I was about 4 years old, dad put a cup of ice water on the counter and told me to come back in about 10 minutes. After the time had elapsed, I did, and there was condensation on the outside of the glass. Dad asked me how the water got there. I speculated that it had somehow leaked through the glass.

      I can't remember if he told me how the water actually got there, but that was the first time I can remember deliberately forming a hypothesis about something I'd observed

      Also, for as long as I can remember, my folks had science books just floating around--lots of them with pictures like the Time-Life science books, which I had thumbed through many times before I even knew how to read. Plus they had a set of World Book Encyclopedias. I was always re-readings those.

      I do wonder if I'd be as science-minded as I am today without such encouragement, or if I was just born that way to begin with. I'm sure the encouragement didn't hurt.

  • by zapakh ( 1256518 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:15PM (#30206074)

    Yet too often our schools lack support for teachers or the other resources needed to convey the practical utility and remarkable beauty of science and engineering.

    This looks like a job for...Sagan-Man []!

  • by MSTCrow5429 ( 642744 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:16PM (#30206080)
    More top down central planning of the government schools isn't going to lead to more productive outcomes. Science isn't a rigid, unchanging system that can be taught as dogma. Instead of throwing another stifling straitjacket onto the failed government schools, he might emulate the diverse and decentralized environment of scientific achievement, and allow competition with government schools, and competing curricula that will over time lead to increasingly more beneficial outcomes.
  • by Morris Thorpe ( 762715 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:21PM (#30206168)

    The teacher unions complained loud and early about this plan. They pushed hard for (and eventually) got numerous changes to the original proposal.

    Most of my kids' teachers have been good people generally interested in educating kids. The unions, on the other hand, are out of touch with the classroom and mostly interested in their own survival.

    Sorry to be so cynical - and I only speak from personal experience - but I have yet to see the unions fight to get their way about something (tenure, testing methods, school hours, curriculum, etc.) and get a positive result in the end. And with this much money at stake...

    • by kevinNCSU ( 1531307 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:43PM (#30206474)

      On the flip side in states where you can't unionize, North Carolina for example, in order to balance the budget they gave teachers a retroactive pay cut which means your next paycheck gets docked all the money you got payed earlier in the year to bring it down to your new lower salary level. For all you people who think I typed something wrong because that sounds too illegal and crazy to be true, it is, and it did happen. The Governor apparently has broad constitutional rights to balance the state budget. Teachers that had a lot of money already taken out for things like medical spending and the like actually had to PAY the state back. That sorta thing doesn't exactly help get good teachers in our state.

      Now compare that to the quality of education in the state of New york where I first lived and they did have teacher unions....

  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:28PM (#30206262)

    I was going to say stop paying executives and lawyers so much.

    But then I realized an even more fundamental problem.

    Science is hard. Degrees are expensive in the U.S.

    Knowing science does not result in either good pay or security.

    So smart people choose other fields which require boots on the ground, better security, and better social status.

    Only suckers do science right now.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Only suckers do science right now.

      And people that actually love it.

      It'd be nice to reward that category before rewarding people that just want to make money and don't care about the field.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:38PM (#30206394)

    The silver bullet for education is very simple: Fix society. There's nothing inherently wrong with our schools. The problem is that schools are nothing but a microcosm of our society. We think that because schools are full of kids we have some special control over them, but that's generally not true. Kids learn what to value first from their parents, second from their role models (which are usually popular media figures), third from their peers, and only then from teachers. It's even worse when you think you can control teenagers who are not children.

    Parents that do not value education produce kids that do not value educations. Parents with no ambitions produce kids with no ambitions. A society that values fame and fortune over science and progress produces kids that value fame and fortune over science and progress.

    Quite simply, sick schools are a symptom of the real disease, a sick society. Of course few want to admit our society is sick, and even fewer want to make an effort to fix it. They'd rather just pretend that there's a magic trick to turning blank children (who aren't really blank) into perfect adults. Well sorry adults, but a) kids will turn out fine without you trying to "fix" them, and b) YOU are the real problem. We have to do what we want kids to do: We have to take responsibility and try to fix things instead of pushing problems onto somebody else, i.e. another generation.

    Fix society, and you fix schools. It's that simple. Fixing society isn't that simple? Tough. Either do it or stop complaining about schools.

  • by StefanJ ( 88986 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:47PM (#30206538) Homepage Journal

    Obama is a member of the One World Order muslim kenyan atheist conspiracy and is only interested in promoting America-Last policies like Darwinism, heliocentrism, and rational thought.


  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @05:54PM (#30206636)

    Corp america doesn't care how many millions of kids become engineers or scientists. It'll always be cheaper to hire an engineer in India/China than in the US. My company (large IT company), hasn't had any layoffs, but all the hiring that has been happening has been overseas. So when the CEO gets on the quarterly call and says that the company has continued to hire people; he leaves out the little footnote about how 90% of them are overseas.

  • by jmoo ( 67040 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @06:26PM (#30207112)

    Warning! Anecdotal evidence ahead, my own two cents, etc....

    My wife is a teacher now for 6 years and from what I can make of it, teachers are there own worse enemy when it comes to any improvements in the schools. They regularly resist any change, argue over almost any point, and back stab each other the smallest perceived slight. I think, at least in part, its comes from just a lot of burn out and frustration with students, but as I said this comes to be second hand from my wife so I know I don't have the clearest view.

    My wife was an accountant and got her MBA before deciding to get out of the corporate life and to take up teaching. She went through an accelerated course to get her teaching degree. Now teaching business at the high school level for several years, but continues to be look down on by many of the teachers at the school. She didn't get a normal degree in education, she one of the "transplants". Such narrow mindedness....

FORTUNE'S FUN FACTS TO KNOW AND TELL: A giant panda bear is really a member of the racoon family.