Masters of Education: Obama Pledges $1 Billion to Create Elite Group of STEM Teachers
On Wednesday, President Obama announced that he would create an elite group of teachers to become masters of education in the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This "Master Teachers Corps" is part of an overall agenda of the administration to improve the quality of education in high demand areas that are essential to economic prosperity. Obama has pledged $1 billion to reward high-performing teachers with additional salary stipends of up to $20,000. $100 million will be available immediately from existing funds for incentivizing teachers, and the rest of the funding will be proposed in Obama's budget for the 2013 fiscal year. "If America is going to compete for the jobs and industries of tomorrow, we need to make sure our children are getting the best education possible. Teachers matter, and great teachers deserve our support," Obama said in a statement. He went on to declare: "I'm running to make sure that America has the best education system on Earth, from pre-K all the way to post-graduate. And that means hiring new teachers, especially in math and science." Roberto Rodriguez, a special assistant to Obama for education, said these master teachers will be chosen by local education officials and must spend at least four years in the corps. The hope is they will share their knowledge and strategies with fellow teachers and create a much wider network of quality STEM educators besides those in the corps itself. "They'll be an elite group of teachers leading their communities," Rodriguez said, "They'd lead professional development [courses], mentorship activities and would be regularly contributing new lesson plans and strategies to transform and improve science and math teaching." It is believed that once the initiative is underway, five percent of all STEM educators will be part of the Master Teachers Corps. The group will start with 2,500 teachers and will grow to include 10,000 over the next four years, and 100,000 over the next 10 years. Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes the Senate and the House of Representatives will approve this initiative, even though they voted down on Obama's proposed budget earlier in the year. "This initiative has nothing to do with politics," he said. "It's absolutely in our country's best long-term economic interest to do a much better job in this area." Two years ago, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommended the creation of a STEM Master Teacher Corps to address the essential need for quality STEM education for the future of the economy. The council's report said the corps would "significantly and visibly reward excellence in STEM teaching, signal the importance of the profession and elevate the level of STEM teachers by setting a new bar for excellence." In order to keep up with economic demand, the council estimated that America needed a growth of 34 percent in the number of students receiving STEM degrees. STEM education is a crucial part of the global economy and of America's participation in that economy. As expanding industries continue to rely on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the need for well-prepared, knowledgeable young talent increases as well. The economy needs STEM professionals, and future generations of economic leaders must have a solid foundation in these fields. Unfortunately, recent decades have seen a decline in the interest of students in STEM subjects, resulting in a high demand for well-qualified teachers. Obama's proposal could potentially turn that decline around and put America back on track as a leader in the STEM industries.