​Educators, advocates hope Obama talks about STEM education at SOTU


STEM teachers and advocates are hopeful that President Barack Obama will mention his administration’s work in science and math education during his final State of the Union speech Tuesday.

Among the guests of first lady Michelle Obama, a widely accepted indicator of the themes of the address, is Lydia Doza, a STEM advocate and college student in Alaska. STEM Education Coalition Executive Director James Brown said it’s a good sign that STEM will feature in Obama’s speech.

“We certainly expect that he will touch on that theme again,” he said.

If he does, one of the programs the president may tout is the Every Student Succeeds Act, the update to No Child Left Behind that Obama signed in December. The new law gives districts more flexibility to tailor their courses to their students’ needs, especially in STEM subjects. The law also talks about narrowing the gap between those who have access to educational resources and those whose resources are more limited.

Brown said addressing this disparity is critical — it continues to pose a barrier to encouraging diverse communities to take computer science classes.

“You do need to do more with the younger kids to give them opportunities to be exposed to the STEM context,” he said. “One of the biggest deficiencies [of opportunities is found among] kids from communities of color and underrepresented and disadvantaged groups.”

Under the law, states and districts also have more authority to fund STEM education and cooperate with tech companies to provide efficient hardware, software and technique training.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if what the president does [is] highlight some of the things that have happened in the public-private partnership area around promoting computer science,” Brown said.

STEM education has been featured in previous speeches.

In the State of the Union in 2011, President Obama proposed preparing 100,000 new STEM teachers over the next decade. Now, the administration said it is more than halfway there. Sekhar Chivukula — physics professor and associate dean in the College of Natural Science of Michigan State University, which educates many STEM teachers — hopes the president will discuss this program more in depth.

“I’m hoping that we’ll hear that there will be an increase of emphasis across the federal government on STEM education broadly,” Chivukula said. “And perhaps [we’ll hear about] some specific programs to make sure that we have more highly qualified teachers.”

Reach the reporter at yizhu.wang@edscoop.com, or follow her on Twitter @yizhuevy.