Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address focused heavily on education and specifically called for greater emphasis on STEM education. President Obama covered the full-spectrum of recent education issues including: Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, international competitiveness, standards, the teaching profession, as well as STEM teachers, and more. In addition, four science students attended and sat in the box as guests of First Lady Michelle Obama.
President Obama stressed global competitiveness, pointing out that other nations, including China and India, are focusing greater efforts on educating their children in math and science. He also referenced lagging math and science proficiency among American students compared to their international peers. In December 2010, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results revealed that U.S. students ranked 17th in science and 25th in math out of 70 other international economies.
“We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world,” the President stated. This statement comes only a few weeks after he signed into law the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 5116), which sets goals to do exactly that.
Race to the Top, the $4.35 billion grant competition, is the “most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation,” he said. The President has requested that Congress continue the competition in the FY2011 budget, which has not yet been approved. The President also applauded the states who have adopted the new Common Core State Standards.
In addition, President Obama called for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Many education policy experts are skeptical of the likelihood of this being accomplished in a highly divided Congress. President Obama, however, consistent with his optimistic tone, sounded confident as he said, “Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that is more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.”
Of course the budget was also a main topic throughout his remarks, but he cautioned law makers regarding edu-cuts. He compared gutting our investments in innovation and education to be like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine.
Teachers, or “nation builders” as they call them in South Korea, should be treated with the utmost respect, said the President. He referred to his recent announcement of a goal to recruit and train 100,000 great STEM teachers over the next ten years who are able to prepare and inspire students. This goal is aligned with the recommendations(pdf) recently made by the President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST). In an appeal to young people, he said, “If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child — become a teacher. Your country needs you.”
Overall, the State of the Union Address was extremely favorable for STEM education, especially this statement, “We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.”