Obama seeking to boost study of science, math
He enlists corporations, charities, even video- game designers in a $260 million program.
WASHINGTON - President Obama said he was enlisting corporations and foundations - and video-game designers - in a $260 million effort to promote the study of science and technology.
The administration has recruited company executives including Ursula Burns, chief executive officer of Xerox Corp.; Glenn Britt, president and CEO of Time Warner Cable Inc.; and Antonio Perez, CEO of Eastman Kodak Co., as well as former astronaut Sally Ride.
The Carnegie Corp. of New York and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also are backing the effort.
"The hard truth is that, for decades, we've been losing ground" in drawing students into science and mathematics, Obama said at the White House yesterday. "Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models."
The program, called Educate to Innovate, is a follow-up to Obama's call earlier this year for a national campaign to raise American students "from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math" in 10 years.
Public-television staple Sesame Street is backing the campaign and will have a two-year focus on science and math; Discovery Communications Inc. is launching a five-year programming block dedicated to promoting science education, and the MacArthur Foundation is teaming up with the technology industry to hand out prizes in a contest to create video games with math- and science-related themes.
Obama is making education one of the cornerstones of what he says will be a foundation for long-term U.S. economic growth.
The administration has set a goal of making the United States the world leader in the percentage of college graduates by 2020. In July he unveiled "Race to the Top," a program in which states will compete for grants based on plans to improve their public education systems.
The $260 million is a "drop in the bucket" compared with the roughly $500 billion that federal, state, and local taxpayers spend on education each year, said Andy Smarick, a distinguished visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit education research group in Washington.
"This is a White House attempt to show that the president cares about" U.S. competitiveness in science, technology, engineering, and math, Smarick said. "But this alone isn't going to change the ball game."
The hurdle for the United States is persuading students to opt for careers in science and technology, according to Russ Whitehurst, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
Students are "as prepared or more prepared than they ever were" for science careers, Whitehurst said. "They're just choosing not to do that sort of thing."
Many U.S. college graduates choose careers that offer higher salaries and more job security, Whitehurst said.
Obama said the administration wanted to elevate tech careers and "to show young people how cool science can be." As part of that, he said the administration would begin an annual White House science fair to showcase winners of national competitions in science and technology.