In his 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama promised to "improve science and math education in K through 12, to prepare more students for these studies in college” and "work to increase our number of science and engineering graduates and encourage undergraduates studying math and science to pursue graduate studies.”
In the promise, Obama added that he wanted to expand diversity in math and science by increasing the number of women and minorities studying those subjects.
As we mentioned in our last update, in the 2009 stimulus bill, the administration created the Race to the Top Fund, which awarded $4.35 billion in competitive grants to states working to increase innovation in education.
The Department of Education"s explanation of the grant criteria specifically mentions that one of the fund"s top priorities is to place an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math and to address "the needs of underrepresented groups and of women and girls in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”
That falls in line with what President Obama promised in his campaign, and since 2009, the administration has awarded over $4 billion to 16 states to meet those priorities.
However, we still wanted to find out exactly how these states were pushing to implement science and math education into their curriculums, so we took a look at Tennessee, which was one of the first two states to receive a Race to the Top grant.
As it turns out, the state has made serious progress towards several goals that help to fulfill the president"s promise.
Over the past two school years, Tennessee put a large portion of the $500 million in grants that it received from the administration towards the creation of the Tennessee STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Innovation Network, a system of public-private partnerships between the Tennessee Department of Education and the Battelle Memorial Institute, a worldwide research and development organization.
Sky Gallegos, director of the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network, told us that that one of the network"s major initiatives is the creation of "innovation hubs” - partnerships across the state between businesses and schools, such as the L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville, which are designed to increase science and math resources at an educational level.
"There is no doubt this grant has attracted new students to science, technology, math and engineering,” Gallegos said. "The enthusiasm in each of the districts where we are funding a school is tremendous. The simple fact that we have over 300 students enrolled in the new Knoxville STEM school in its first year speaks volumes about the interest of students in math and science. ”
Other similar initiatives, albeit in different forms, were also funded in 15 other states with Race to the Top Funds.
Jodi Peterson, spokesperson for the National Science Teachers Association, said that while she still hopes to see more funding for these types of projects from Congress, "STEM education is a high priority for the Administration and is very important to President Obama.”
President Obama and his administration have addressed science and math education in several ways since taking office in 2009, and through the Race to the Top Fund and other initiatives, the administration has given billions towards reforming STEM education. We rate this a Promise Kept.