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Obama’s $1 Billion STEM Program: Money Alone Won’t Attract Good Teachers, Says NYU Prof.

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On Wednesday President Barack Obama announced a new $1 billion teacher program, the Master Teacher Corps, to aid and promote education in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

"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," said the president. "Teachers matter, and great teachers deserve our support."

The new program will start small with 50 "exceptional STEM teachers" and expand to 10,000 over the next 4 years. The teachers selected for the Master Teacher Corps will receive a $20,000 bonus on top of their base salary in exchange for a multi-year commitment.

"I think it is a very good idea," says Peter Noguera, professor of education at New York University. "We've known for a while that this country needs more people who are well prepared in science and math and engineering and one of the critical shortages in teaching is in that area."

American students used to rank number one in STEM areas compared to the rest of the developed world, but today that is no longer the case. According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development's latest study of education in developed nations, U.S. teenagers rank 19th in science and 27th in math. Finland and Singapore lead the world in science and Singapore and Korea and math.

Meanwhile, the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology found earlier this year that in order to keep up with economic demand, the U.S. must increase the number of students graduating college with degrees in STEM areas by nearly 35 percent.

"The need for us is clear; the challenge will be implementation," says Noguera, who is very concerned about how the government will attract these Master Teachers to high-need communities, adding "money by itself won't do it."

"What attracts and keeps teachers are the working conditions," he says. "The schools where the need is greatest are often the schools that are the most dysfunctional where the teaching conditions are the worst."

The Daily Ticker reached out to the House Education and Workforce Committee chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-MN) for a comment on Obama's proposal. Committee majority spokesperson Alexandra Sollberger told us via email, "Republicans share the president's goal of getting better teachers in the classroom — however, we also value transparency and efficient use of taxpayer resources."

Sollberger also highlighted findings of a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that showed 82 teacher quality programs already exist across 10 different federal agencies and more than 200 STEM programs exist across 12 government agencies.

"Investing in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is a worthwhile endeavor — but pumping billions of dollars into programs that may be duplicative or unproductive is just plain foolish," Rep. Kline has said in the past.

While Noguera believes Obama's Master Teachers Corps is a good idea, he is not certain whether the country needs one more federally-backed teaching program.

"We certainly need more people; we need more teachers who are strong in these areas," he says. "Anything we can do that creates incentives for people to enter these fields to stay in them and to work in high need areas is a good thing and the country will benefit by that."

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