Congressman Proposes STEM Education Office

California congressman introduces legislation to create STEM education office in Dept. of Ed.

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U.S. Congressman Michael Honda is Silicon Valley's representative. Honda is a member of the House Appropriations and Budget Committees, chair emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, co-chair of the Democratic Caucus' New Media Working Group, and the original author of the Equity and Excellence Commission now housed in the US Department of Education. 

Co-author Peter Cleveland is vice president of Global Public Policy at the Intel Corporation.

Fulfilling the American Dream begins with a great education. The American public school system must be the equalizer of economic opportunity throughout the United States, elevating each child's creativity, skills, and thought—inspiring her to dream, equipping her to succeed, empowering her to be a force on the world scene.

As our nation's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce heads toward retirement, too few students are equipped to serve as the next generation of global innovators. Programme for International Student Assessment comparisons from 2009 show American students ranking 17th out of 34 in science literacy, and 25th out of 34 in math literacy, among students from developed countries. These numbers are a crisis. These numbers are an urgent call to action.

To answer this call, Representative Honda has introduced the STEM Education Innovation Act of 2011 in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill will create an Office of STEM Education in the Department of Education headed by an assistant secretary of STEM education, who will coordinate the department's K-12 and higher education STEM efforts. The assistant secretary will partner with stakeholders, researchers, and businesses in STEM-related fields to help forge a competitive American workforce. The bill will also support a state consortia on STEM education to shape STEM best practices, in addition to developing strategies to increase participation of underrepresented communities in STEM disciplines. The third component of the bill is the Education Innovation Project, which will provide grant funding to outside entities—including for-profit companies, foundations, nonprofits, and institutions of higher learning—to develop educational technology innovations that will unleash the power of STEM education.

Right now, there is a huge demand for STEM workers—they are among the highest-paid and fastest-growing segment in the nation, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The report says that by 2018, 5 percent of all jobs in America will be STEM jobs, and the demand for STEM talent is growing even faster outside traditional STEM jobs.

High-tech companies understand this need for a well-educated workforce. If we do not produce an adequate number of Americans with significant STEM skills, the long-term competitiveness of the American economy is at risk. Now is the time for an innovative, collaborative approach to protect and expand our nation's economic future. Industry, community, and government leaders must join forces to inspire curiosity, critical thinking, and the foundation in math and science necessary to meet the demand for the high-tech jobs of today and tomorrow. 

Such partnerships have already proven to be successful in Representative Honda's district, as in the case of Intel and Lynbrook High School in San Jose, Calif. Consistently producing finalists for international science fairs and nationwide math competitions, Lynbrook has flourished with the help of Intel grant funding, top-notch technology in the classrooms, and a dedicated roster of teachers. Lynbrook was recently honored as a 2011 Intel School of Distinction for its innovative teaching models. The school was awarded a cash grant and new technology for its classrooms.

By coordinating efforts and placing STEM education at the top of the priority list, Lynbrook's faculty and staff have seen staggering growth in students' science scores and participation in STEM internships and opportunities. Lynbrook's work with Intel has created an environment of real excitement that pushes students to achieve higher and higher levels of knowledge in STEM through hands-on research. Lynbrook students represent how America can compete in the global community.

Science, technology, engineering, and math are what have made America a land of world-changing innovation and boundless imagination. The STEM Education Innovation Act will unleash the creativity of our companies and teachers; it will forge a cutting-edge workforce capable of bringing back the America of the 1960s, where we put men on the moon and founded the Internet.

That's why Congress must pass the STEM Act now. The current challenges to American education and to the American economy demand it. Passage of the bill will equip schools across the country to enthrall and educate the students of today so they can become the Sally Ride or Steve Jobs of tomorrow.

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