Fortifying STEM education

I’ve called for improvements in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to move America’s students to the top of the pack by enabling all students to learn deeply and think critically in science and math; expanding STEM education opportunities for students from all backgrounds; and building partnerships among educators, businesses, and community partners to support advances in STEM education.

Toward this end, my administration has prioritized STEM education in Race to the Top and the i3 Fund; improved the coordination of STEM education initiatives between the Department of Education and National Science Foundation; and recruited more than 100 industry partners to help boost STEM learning through the “Change the Equation” program.

We’ve also issued a national challenge to prepare 100,000 effective STEM teachers and have requested $80 million for a competition to support effective STEM teaching preparation programs. And, I’ve proposed the creation of a new, national STEM Master Teacher Corps comprised of some of the nation’s finest educators in STEM subjects. The STEM Master Teacher Corps will begin with 50 exceptional STEM teachers established in 50 sites and will be expanded over four years to reach 10,000 Master Teachers. These selected teachers will make a multi-year commitment to the Corps and, in exchange for their expertise, leadership, and service, will receive an annual stipend of up to $20,000 on top of their base salary. We plan to launch this Teacher Corps with $1 billion from the 2013 budget request currently before Congress.

Raising the bar for early learning

Expanding access to high-quality early childhood education is among the smartest investments we can make. Research has shown that the early years in a child’s life—when the human brain is forming—represent a critically important window of opportunity to develop a child’s full potential and shape key academic, social, and cognitive skills that determine a child’s success in school and in life.

Participation in high-quality early learning programs—like Head Start, public and private pre-kindergarten, and childcare—will give children from disadvantaged backgrounds a strong start and a foundation for success. These programs also generate a significant return on investment for society; numerous economic studies have documented a rate of return as high as 18 percent on the program investment each year because of a reduced need for spending on other services, such as remedial education, grade repetition, and special education, as well as increased productivity and earnings for these children as adults.

We’ve invested more than $600 million in the Race to the Top: Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), a new competition that challenges states to transform their early learning systems with better coordination, clearer learning standards, and meaningful education and training for early educators. The goal is to make sure that more children, especially those with high needs, enter kindergarten ready to succeed.

Nearly 45 years after its inception, the Head Start program continues to be one of the best investments to help our neediest children get a strong start in school and in life. Nearly one million children under the age of five benefit from Head Start services each year through grants provided by the Department of Health and Human Services directly to community-based agencies across the country. The program makes it possible for the most vulnerable children in America to see doctors and dentists, obtain insurance, and receive immunizations against childhood diseases.

We’ve taken important steps to make Head Start services available to additional children. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we invested $2.1 billion in Head Start and Early Head Start, expanding these programs to reach more than 61,000 additional children and families. We’ve also taken new steps to raise Head Start’s standards, focus on school readiness results, and promote accountability—including the launch of a new process designed to ensure that only the most capable and highest quality programs receive Head Start grants.