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April 13, 2011

STEM Education

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Mr. FRANKEN. Mr. President, I rise to talk about a matter that is very important to our country, to Minnesota, and to me, which is science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education or STEM education for short.

As I have traveled around Minnesota, I have heard from many of our high-tech businesses. They fear our students will not be ready to take on the jobs waiting for them when they graduate and, as a result, these jobs will go unfilled and our economy will founder. This is not just true in Minnesota, of course, but across the country--in Pennsylvania, the State of the Presiding Officer, and everywhere in our Nation.

That is why I am addressing our need for a well-trained STEM workforce through the STEM Master Teacher Corps Act, which has been cosponsored by my colleagues, Senators Lieberman and Shaheen.

We have been hearing concern about the state of STEM education in our country for over a decade now. In 2000, a 25-member commission, headed by former Senator John Glenn, published a report called ``Before It's Too Late,'' which addressed the pressing need for high-quality math and science teaching.

Five years later, another report--``Rising Above the Gathering Storm''--presented the findings and recommendations of a National Academies commission, chaired by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine, concerning the deteriorating condition of STEM education and basic research.

Last year, a followup report, dramatically entitled ``Rapidly Approaching Category 5 Hurricane,'' warned us that the ``gathering storm'' is now threatening to wipe out U.S. leadership in global science and technology if we don't act fast--and said so with good reason.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly every one of the top 30 fastest growing professions requires

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STEM skills. These include jobs in some of the fields that are most critical to the future of our country--health care, energy, climate change, and national security. Yet too few kids are graduating from high school with the interest or the preparation to successfully pursue STEM degrees in college. Well over half of college students in China and Japan major in STEM fields, compared with only one-third of U.S. students.

International standardized tests show that we rank only average or below average in students' math and science performance. The 2009 Program for International Student Assessment placed American 15-year-olds 25th in math and 17th in science out of 34 OECD countries--the developed countries. What is worse is, we are spending more on education per student than any other OECD country in the world, except for Luxembourg.

As Congress works to reform No Child Left Behind this year--and the Presiding Officer is working with me on that on the HELP Committee--I urge my colleagues to consider strongly the importance of STEM education and how to spend our limited resources most effectively. President Obama has proposed recruiting and training 100,000 new STEM teachers in the next decade and has requested $100 million to advance this worthy goal.

However, many STEM teachers leave the profession within their first few years of teaching, often drawn by far more lucrative salaries elsewhere in science and technology fields. Those talents are valued in the market. So if we are going to invest in recruiting and training new teachers, we also need to invest in retaining and best utilizing those individuals.

The STEM Master Teacher Corps Act is based on a proposal brought forth by President Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. It will provide the top K-12 STEM teachers in a participating area with additional professional development, so they can become leaders in their schools and in their communities.

Master teachers will mentor their younger or less-effective peers, giving them guidance and inspiring them to stay in teaching. Master teachers will also network with one another, sharing best practices and resources. Together, these measures will improve the quality and the ability of all teachers to impart strong STEM skills and an eagerness to learn and pass it on to their students.

Providing career advancement opportunities to effective STEM teachers and support to beginning teachers will help increase retention, so our investments in recruitment and training will have an even greater payoff.

In recognition of their excellent work and new leadership responsibilities, it is only fair that these master teachers should be compensated, so my legislation also gives them a salary bump. Our teachers work just as hard as other STEM professionals, and it is time we recognize that and pay them accordingly. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the median salary offered to recent college graduates in certain STEM-related fields, including physics, computer science, accounting, and engineering, is $24,000 higher than that offered to a new secondary school teacher and $30,000 higher than that offered to a new elementary school teacher.

This legislation has been endorsed by more than 60 national and regional groups, ranging from educational organizations such as the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the College Board, and Education Minnesota, to business groups such as LifeScience Alley, the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota, and the Minnesota High Tech Association.

The bill is also supported by rural groups, such as the National Rural Education Association and the Rural School and Community Trust and numerous science and math societies.

I am particularly pleased to have the endorsement of two leading national businesses that also happened to be headquartered in my State, Medtronic and 3M. Both of these companies recognize and support the importance of acting now to ensure a well-trained workforce for the future, and they have already shown a proactive interest in supporting and engaging students in STEM activities.

I was recently at a first robotics event at the University of Minnesota that was astounding. They had two huge auditoriums of these over-130 teams competing in Minnesota in this robotics competition. So I am very grateful for the support of 3M and of Medtronic.

Mr. President, I have a very impressive list of the number of endorsers to the bill, and I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the full list of endorsers.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

Organizations Endorsing Senator Franken's STEM Master Teacher Corps Act of 2011

3M; Alliance for Excellent Education; American Association for the Advancement of Science; American Association of Physicists in Medicine; American Association of Physics Teachers; American Federation of Teachers (AFT); American Institute of Physics; American Mathematical Society; American Physical Society; American Society for Engineering Education; American Society of Civil Engineers; America's Promise Alliance; Arlington, MA STEM Coalition; ASME Center for Public Awareness; Association of Science Materials Centers; Biobusiness Alliance of Minnesota; Campaign for Environmental Literacy; Central Jersey Modeling Institute; College Board; College of Education at Purdue University; Council of State Science Supervisors.

ECOCAD DESIGN GROUP, LLC; Education Development Center; Education Minnesota; Engaged Education Now; For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST); HMC Architects; IEEE-USA; International Renewable Energy Technology Institute; Iowa Mathematics and Science Education Partnership; LearnOnLine, Inc.; LifeScience Alley; Materials Research Society; Math for America; Medtronic; Minnesota Center for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence; Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics; Minnesota High Tech Association; Minnesota Intermediate District 287.

National Association of Secondary School Principals; National Association of State Boards of Education; National Board for Professional Teaching Standards; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics; National Education Association (NEA); National Institute of Building Sciences; National Institute for Excellence in Teaching; National Rural Education Association; National Science Center; National Science Teachers Association; New Teacher Center; Ohio Technology and Engineering Educators Association; Ohio Technology Education Advisory Council; The Optical Society; NV STEM Education Coalition; Project Lead The Way; Rural School and Community Trust; School Science and Mathematics Association (SSMA); South Carolina's Coalition for Mathematics and Science; SPIE, the International Society for Optics and Photonics; STARBASE Minnesota; STEM Education Coalition; TIAX LLC; Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education.

Mr. FRANKEN. Mr. President, the Master Teacher Corps Program addresses the recommendations presented in the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology's 2010 K-12 STEM education report and tracks the priorities laid out more than 10 years ago in the Glenn Commission report.

Specifically, it would establish an ongoing system to improve the quality of mathematics and science teaching in grades K-12, and it would improve the working environment and make the teaching profession more attractive for K-12 mathematics and science teachers.

With the planned reform and reauthorization of No Child Left Behind this year, we have a rare and, indeed, ideal opportunity to implement real change in K-12 STEM education in this country. So let's act now, before it is too late, before the storm has fully gathered, and before that rapidly approaching category 5 hurricane destroys the competitive technological edge and the prosperity our country has worked so hard to build and maintain.

I urge my colleagues to join Senators Lieberman, Shaheen, and me in supporting a sustained investment in K-12 STEM teacher quality and in raising the standards of the teaching profession through the STEM Master Teacher Corps Act.

(Senate - April 12, 2011)

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