Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

STEM Education in Race to the Top

December 3, 2009

Mr. KAUFMAN. Mr. President, a few weeks ago the Department of Education released application guidelines for the Race to the Top competitive grant program. I am very encouraged that these guidelines include a competitive preference for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics--or STEM--education. I commend the Department for its foresight.

Throughout the year, I have spoken many times about how important a focus on science and engineering is to our continued economic recovery. Engineers and scientists have always been the world's problem-solvers. They will help us to solve the challenges of clean water; lifesaving cures for cancer and disease; clean, renewable petro-free energy; affordable-health care; and environmental sustainability.

Yet, if we are to tackle these immense challenges, we can no longer wait to begin training our Nation's future STEM professionals until after they leave the K-12 education pipeline. That is why I am so pleased that the Race to the Top grant application emphasizes STEM education. This is just the kind of attention STEM education needs.

The Race to the Top fund is designed to reward States that have been successful in raising student achievement and have superior plans to accelerate education reform. State grant applications must, of course, focus on certain core education reform areas. However, an emphasis on STEM education is considered a competitive preference priority worth 3 percent of a State's application score. It is the only competitive preference in the Race to the Top application guidelines. Applicants will earn all or none of the designated points, thereby truly rewarding sound initiatives.

To meet this priority, each State must offer a rigorous course of study in STEM education. They are encouraged to collaborate with industry professionals, universities, research centers, museums, and other STEM-focused community partners. Additionally, each State must have a plan for preparing and assisting teachers in integrating STEM throughout the curriculum. This includes offering applied learning opportunities and relevant instruction for students.

There are some successful STEM education programs already in operation throughout the country. A study released by the National Academy of Engineering in September highlighted a handful of K-12 engineering curriculum projects. Other education-based initiatives are also spurring interest among our youth. For example, there is a remarkable afterschool program in Wilmington, DE, that I recently spoke about here in the Senate. It inspires high school students to pursue careers in STEM fields by teaching them how to build robots. It is a great program. All too often, though, these types of opportunities have not been available to all of our Nation's students. The Race to the Top grants will bring more opportunities to more students.

Perhaps the most important component for meeting this grant priority is that States' plans must prepare more students to pursue college majors and careers in STEM. They must also specifically address the needs of women and underrepresented minorities. The United States cannot maintain its position as a technological leader nor can we solve the problems we face without a diversity of perspectives and participation.

Women constitute about half of the students in our higher education system about half of the overall workforce, but they comprise only slightly more than 12 percent of the science and engineering workforce. African Americans hold only 4.4 percent of science and engineering jobs, Hispanics just 3.4 percent. We can, and must, do better, and the Race to the Top application guidelines are a step in the right direction.

Over $4 billion is available for competitive grants in the Race to the Top program. This is an unprecedented level of discretionary funding for the Department of Education, and States nationwide will be pulling out all the stops to earn their share of the pie. Many States working months ago to put the correct conditions in place to apply for funds.

Moreover, the ``Educate to Innovate'' campaign was recently launched by President Obama. This campaign is a nationwide effort of private companies, universities, foundations, nonprofits, and science and engineering societies--working with the Federal Government--to improve student performance in STEM subjects. As part of this effort, business leaders and nonprofits will be joining forces to identify and replicate successful STEM programs across the country. For example, Time Warner Cable and the Coalition of Science After School are creating an online directory of STEM afterschool programs. Other STEM organizations will be teaming up with local volunteers to host National Lab Days, and President Obama announced an annual science fair at the White House. This type of public-private collaboration is just the kind of action we need to bolster STEM education.

I sincerely hope the competitive preference for STEM education in the Race to the Top application, coupled with the ``Educate to Innovate'' campaign, will spur the kind of investment and attention in STEM education that I believe all of our students deserve. Our country is counting on these future scientists and engineers.

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