Competitions for science are racing along
Barack Obama made a promise during the 2008 campaign to encourage the next generation of scientists and engineers by supporting "nontraditional approaches, such as student design competitions and Internet-based collaborations.”
In 2009, there were some early signs of progress in the economic stimulus bill through President Obama's Race to the Top Fund. Race to the Top distributed $4 billion to states with a competitive grant process targeted at school reform.
Since our last update, we found that states are required to demonstrate a commitment to science and math programs in order to apply for the most recent round of Race to the Top grants.
Beyond Race to the Top, we also found that Obama launched an initiative called "Educate to Innovate,” a cooperative effort between the federal government, companies, foundations, nonprofits, and science and engineering societies aimed at improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs.
A number of programs that fit the bill of "nontraditional approaches” were created in response to Obama's Educate to Innovate Initiative.
One is a business-led nonprofit called Change the Equation, which was created in 2010 to improve STEM education.
This nonprofit created programs such as Engineering is Elementary, which brings technology into elementary schools, and the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) program, which helps kids from elementary to high school participate in robotics competitions.
Another program called the National STEM Video Game Challenge helped Obama fulfill his promise by engaging middle school, high school and college students in a multi-year "make your own video game” competition.
We also found the Maker Education Initiative, created to spark children's interest in science, math, technology and the arts by giving them opportunities to design and build things.
Throughout his first term, Obama has expressed his support for the Maker Movement and other STEM programs at the White House's annual science fairs.
The science fairs simultaneously celebrated winners of statewide competitions and helped Obama bring attention to his Educate to Innovate campaign.
We found that numerous programs encouraging kids to get involved with science, technology, engineering and math with "nontraditional approaches” have been launched under Obama's Educate to Innovate initiative. We rate this Promise Kept.
The White House, Educate to Innovate, Accessed Nov. 14, 2012
Change the Equation, Igniting Learning, Accessed Nov. 14, 2012
The White House, President Obama to Announce Major Expansion of "Educate to Innovate” Campaign to Improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education, Sept. 16 2010
The White House, President Obama to Host White House Science Fair, Feb. 6 2012
The White House, Cabinet and Senior Administration Officials Scheduled to Join in National Lab Day Events to Promote "Educate to Innovate" Campaign for Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education, May 11, 2010
The White House, Responding to the President's Call, a New Effort to Help More Students be Makers, May 17, 2012
STEM Challenge, About the Challenge, Accessed Nov. 15, 2012
Education Department, Race to the Top Fund, July 11, 2012
Education grants would encourage innovative teaching in science, math
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to improve science and mathematics education through "nontraditional approaches, such as student design competitions and Internet-based collaborations to engage students and develop the next generation of scientists and engineers."
The economic stimulus bill passed in early 2009 includes one major program that could advance these goals.
The Race to the Top Fund is poised to provide $4.35 billion in competitive grants for education. Among other things, these grants are designed to encourage educational innovation, improve student achievement and high school graduation rates, and prepare students more effectively for college and careers. The program isn't up and running yet, but the first applications could be accepted as early as late 2009, according to the Education Department.
A draft proposal says that the program would give preferences to applications that would "cooperate with industry experts, museums, universities, research centers, or other ... community partners to prepare and assist teachers in integrating [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] content across grades and disciplines, in promoting effective and relevant instruction, and in offering applied learning opportunities for students."
The Race to the Top Fund isn't operational yet, and neither student design competitions nor Internet-based collaborations are cited by name. But the kinds of applications envisioned by this plan would seem to include such "nontraditional approaches." We consider this promise to be In the Works.
Education Department, "
Race to the Top Fund Executive Summary: Notice of Proposed Priorities, Requirements, Definitions and Selection Criteria
," accessed Oct. 7, 2009
E-mail interview with Jodi Peterson, assistant executive director for legislative and public affairs at the National Science Teachers Association, Oct. 7, 2009