President Obama will use the backdrop of a White House science fair today to highlight a nationwide shortage of math and science teachers and unveil a plan to invest $100 million to help train 100,000 new educators over the next decade.
The investment is intended to address a problem that the president thinks could ultimately threaten the nation’s global competitiveness. U.S. companies have called on the government to help produce more highly skilled workers to keep pace with job openings in new high-tech industries.
“Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job,” Obama said during his State of the Union address Jan. 24. “Think about that: openings at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work. It’s inexcusable.”
Obama first challenged Congress and business leaders two years ago to address the shortfall of teachers with expertise in science, technology, engineering and math — known as STEM. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 15-year-olds in the United States placed in the bottom third and the bottom quarter for science and math literacy, respectively, among 30 developed countries.
A group of 14 foundations, universities, business interests and education groups has responded to Obama’s challenge by raising the $22 million, said Talia Milgrom-Elcott, a program officer at the Carnegie Corp., which spearheaded the effort. The money will be given to more than 100 organizations that provide teacher training and have gone through an application process, she said.
Among the private organizations that have pledged resources are Google, Teach for America and the University of Chicago, White House officials said.
But increasing the federal commitment could be more difficult for Obama, who will include his $80 million request in his fiscal 2013 budget next week, administration aides said. Congress rejected a request for a similar amount last year.
“It might be an uphill push” again, said Linda Rosen, chief executive of Change the Equation, a nonprofit network of business leaders dedicated to training teachers in math, science and technology. “A lot of it is budget constraints.”
Even without Congress’s support, the administration will move forward by tailoring existing programs, including its Race to the Top competition, to put more emphasis on math, science and technology, officials said.
Several experts hailed the president’s focus on the teacher shortage but described it as a complicated problem that could require more than money for new training programs.
Richard Ingersoll, an education and sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said universities in the United States produce enough graduates with teaching expertise.
The real problem, he said, is retaining those teachers, who often leave for higher-paying jobs.
“Almost every president since Eisenhower has given speeches and initiatives citing a math and science teacher shortage,” Ingersoll said. “But the conventional diagnosis [of a shortage] is not supported by the data.”