President Barack Obama on Nov. 23 announced the launch of several nationwide programs to help motivate and inspire students to excel in science and math, including a grassroots effort called “National Lab Day” and a White House science fair.

Leadership tomorrow is dependent on how America’s students are educated today, Obama said in morning remarks.

“The key to meeting these challenges–to improving our health and well-being, to harnessing clean energy, to protecting our security, and succeeding in the global economy–will be reaffirming and strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation,” he said. “The hard truth is that for decades we’ve been losing ground. One assessment shows American 15-year-olds now rank 21st in science and 25th in math when compared to their peers around the world.”

Obama was referring to results from the most recent Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. Some experts caution that PISA is different from other tests, especially those in the United States, and makes American kids look worse than other tests do.

Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren reiterated Obama’s sentiment in a conference call with reporters.

“The president has been clear throughout his campaign that STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] is a priority, not only because we need today’s students to become tomorrow’s leaders in innovation and help our economy, but also because we need to increase STEM interest and skills overall for everybody. We need a science-savvy citizenry to help decide STEM policy and much more,” he said.

Obama identified three overarching priorities for STEM education: increasing STEM literacy so all students can think critically in these subject areas; improving the quality of math and science teaching so American students no longer are outperformed by those in other nations; and expanding STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and minorities.

To help meet these goals, Obama announced a series of high-powered partnerships involving leading companies, foundations, nonprofit organizations, and science and engineering societies, all of which are dedicated to moving American students from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next 10 years.