Obama: CEOs joining to push math, science education

CEOs are launching a new nonprofit initiative, Change the Equation, which will expand privately funded projects to 100 communities in need of better math and science education. Obama is making this announcement Thursday.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Obama shakes hands with students after delivering remarks at his second annual back-to-school speech, Sept. 14, at Julia R. Masterman School in Philadelphia.

The CEOs of more than 100 companies are launching a new nonprofit initiative, Change the Equation, to turn today’s diverse generation of students into tomorrow’s scientists, engineers, and math-literate citizens, President Obama is announcing Thursday.

The group will start by expanding successful, privately funded education projects in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to 100 communities where students are most in need. It will also develop a scorecard to help states see how they can improve STEM curriculum and teacher development.

"Our success as a nation depends on strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of discovery and innovation," Mr. Obama says in remarks prepared for the announcement in the afternoon.

IN PICTURES: Back to school

Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, is one of the founders of Change the Equation. “We all know that we need to produce the next generation of rocket scientists and environmental engineers,” she says in a phone interview. “Even to get a basic living-wage job, the students of today are going to need a good education in math and science.”

One goal is to give STEM a much-needed image upgrade. “It’s socially acceptable in our culture to say ‘I can’t do math,’ ” says Linda Rosen, a mathematician and CEO of Change the Equation. “The corporate world can show the pervasiveness of STEM in everyday life.”

Matt Tosiello, a third-grade teacher at the Randolph school in Arlington, Va., has seen the power of giving kids a broader array of role models who use math and science in their work.

At the beginning of the year, he asks his students to draw a picture of scientists, and inevitably their pictures show a geeky man in a lab coat. When the mainly immigrant students learn of the diverse people whose jobs involve both science and things kids love, such as animals and sports, they have a whole new perception.

“One student at the end of the year said, ‘They asked me in kindergarten what I wanted to do, and I said I want to be a florist.’ ... And then she said, ‘I really don’t want to be a florist. I want to be a surgeon,’ ” says Mr. Tosiello, who picked up practical ideas through the Sally Ride Science Academy’s training sessions for elementary- and middle-school teachers.

The privately-funded math and science education projects expected to be replicated by Change the Equation will expand everything from robotics competitions to science summer camps to Advanced Placement courses in math and science. Participating companies run the gamut from Xerox to Facebook. Many of the programs collaborate with museums, science centers, libraries, and other community resources.

Since President Obama first announced the broader “Educate to Innovate” campaign last year, it has harnessed more than $700 million worth of financial and in-kind contributions to STEM education, the White House reports.

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology also released recommendations Thursday: Over the next decade the federal government should help recruit and train 100,000 STEM teachers, support the creation of 1,000 new STEM-focused schools, and reward the top 5 percent of STEM teachers.

IN PICTURES: Back to school

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