Supporting Our Youngest Innovators: STEM starts early!

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Summary: The White House is celebrating early STEM learning.

“Why?” “How?” One of the greatest joys of being a parent is the incredible curiosity children have for the world. Children are naturally inquisitive and they observe, investigate, and discover the world around them. The years from birth to third grade are filled with play and active engagement with the environment. They generate an endless number of questions, and their curiosity fuels their motivation to find answers. These are the traits we expect of our best scientists and engineers, yet many children lose the sense of wonder for science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) as they grow older.

Research indicates that as early as infancy, young children start developing and testing hypotheses for how the world around them works. They understand probability and make predictions. They take in information from trusted sources around them, and use that information to guide their behavior. And that all begins in the first year of life. As they progress through the preschool years, their curiosity continues to grow, and the sophistication of their reasoning and inquiry skills, grow along with it.

Too often, we underestimate the concepts our youngest learners can understand. As the most important influencers in our children’s lives, we — whether parents or other caregivers, child care providers, preschool or elementary school teachers — should support this curiosity, guide young children in their exploration, and identify natural learning opportunities to develop and grow these foundational STEM skills.

We know focusing on STEM pays off. Research shows that early exposure to STEM has positive impacts across the entire spectrum of learning.  For example, early math knowledge not only predicts later math success, it also predicts later reading achievement. Despite these powerful findings, our schools and early childhood programs often lack knowledge, resources, and capacity to focus on early STEM learning in developmentally appropriate ways.[i] We must do better. It is critical that we engage our youngest learners and give them the opportunities they deserve to develop their STEM skills in order to prepare them to compete in our global economy=

The President recognizes the importance of exposing all of our learners to STEM experiences. In his State of the Union address earlier this year, the President challenged all of us to provide every student with authentic STEM experiences to learn subjects like science, math, and computer science.

Building on the President’s early learning  and “Educate to Innovate” agendas, the White House,  working with the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, hope to advance this focus on STEM experiences in the coming months by identifying research gaps, best practices, and education technologies to support our youngest learners, parents and caregivers, educators and community leaders with early STEM education. This spring, the White House, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Invest in US, will hold an event at the White House to focus on this important work and we hope to help highlight your commitments in this area along with a suite of federal resources and materials.

A central part of our goal is identifying organizations focusing on this work at the local level. We are seeking to highlight commitments from philanthropy, industry, advocacy organizations, nonprofits, and local and state governments to address key areas in early STEM education, including:

  1. Building the research base about what works in early STEM learning, including promising practices, interventions and teaching strategies;
  2. Supporting practitioners, including child care providers, home visitors, preschool teachers, and elementary school teachers, with STEM pedagogy and content knowledge;
  3. Supporting children and families in fostering STEM at home;
  4. Strategies and partnerships that foster STEM learning in informal settings (e.g., museums, libraries, zoos, media, toys); and
  5. Programs and partnerships that support children from low-income families in rural, tribal and urban settings and children who may have less access to STEM experiences and education including girls, children of color, children with disabilities, children who are dual language learners, and homeless children.

We would welcome the opportunity to highlight any new, specific, and measurable steps that your organization is ready to take in these or other areas to support early STEM in your community and on a national level. If applicable, portions of your announcement may be incorporated into White House materials in the coming months and your organization and relevant partners may be invited to participate in upcoming White House events on this topic. Examples of White House fact sheets include the fact sheet announcing Computer Science for Alland on Astronomy Night may serve as templates for this event. Please submit your commitments including organization name, organization point of contact, email, city and state, media point of contact and the specific details of your commitment (500 words or less) to by Wednesday, March 23, 2016.

We look forward to working with you on this important initiative to support our young innovators and foster a lifelong love of STEM learning.

Roberto J. Rodriguez is Deputy Assistant to the President for Education. Kumar Garg is Assistant Director for Learning and Innovation in the Office of Science and Techonology Policy.

[i] National Research Council. (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

High School – What it Can and Should Be for America’s Students

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Summary: This November, the administration will host the Next Gen High School Summit, a national conversation on transforming high schools to better serve all students.

Photo: President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan visit a classroom

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan visit a classroom at the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn, N.Y., Oct. 25, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


High School is a critical time when we rapidly mature towards adulthood, learn the key skills that prepare us for college and our career, and if given the opportunity, develop a much deeper understanding of the community and world around us. When high schools are designed for the 21st century, they are a springboard into opportunity. And in today’s innovation economy, with rapid growth in high-wage fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the role of high schools is more important than ever.

President Obama has set two ambitious goals: that all adult Americans pursue at least one year of higher education or career training, and that America regain its role as the world leader in the college completion. However, for too many American students, high school is a time of disengagement that fails to put them on a path to college and career success.

That’s why the President has called for whole-school transformation of the high school experience, and visited leading examples such as Manor New Tech in Texas and P-TECH in New York. These next-gen schools are breaking out new approaches to: help their students excel by implementing personalized learning for all students; rethinking the use of time during the school day to match student needs; assessing learning in ways that let students demonstrate mastery, creativity, and critical thinking; providing high-quality and continuous professional development to support educators; and a slew of other school redesigns and evidence-based practices to help students chart a course for life-long success.

Chart: High Schools offering math and science coursesStill, a handful of exceptional schools on their own won’t reach the millions of students across the country who do not have access to the rigorous content they need to be successful, including basic STEM courses and opportunities, and a greater effort is needed to bring next generation learning innovations to all students.

Only 50% of high schools in the U.S. offer calculus, only 63% offer physics, and between 10-25% of high schools offer one or less of typical core math and science courses such as Algebra I and II, geometry, biology, and chemistry. There is a particular shortage of these courses for students who are under-represented in STEM fields, where currently, a quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of African-American and Latino students do not offer Algebra II, and a third do not offer any chemistry. The data below from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights illustrates these shortcomings nationally.

In response to this critical challenge, the President has called for a whole-school transformation of the high school experience. The 2016 Budget calls for the establishment of a new $125 million competitive program at the U.S. Department of Education to help communities across America launch Next-Generation High Schools that will be laboratories for cutting-edge STEM teaching and learning, demonstrating the tenets of high school reform that the President has championed.

This November, the administration will host the Next Gen High School Summit, a national conversation on transforming high schools to better serve all students. This convening will catalyze new thinking on the challenges and opportunities for advancing this agenda, and to share strategies for progress. It will also serve as an opportunity to highlight new resources and investments – from the federal government and others- dedicated to advancing high school redesign work. All stakeholders will be brought to the table, from teachers who work every day to inspire their students, administrators ensuring their teachers have tools and support they need, researchers breaking ground in learning science, industry and foundation leaders who are seeding exciting work in communities across the country, and the full spectrum of other partners working to create a more equitable education system.

High school is perhaps the most formative time in young peoples’ lives. With the President’s leadership and a renewed effort from all who work to improve America’s schools, we can create new havens of learning and opportunity, and create a better system of education for all.

Challenge to Redesign High Schools

To emphasize ways in which we can rethink how we provide a high school education to America’s students, we plan to highlight strong collaborations that have committed to engage in comprehensive high school redesign work through new or existing models. At the fall summit, we hope to announce your commitments to produce more next generation high schools in your communities, with a particular focus on those that will benefit low-income and under-represented students, along with commitments to action to ensure more students graduate with college-level coursework or college credit, as well as with career-related experiences or competencies.

This web form will provide us with a brief overview of your goals and commitments and a description of your action plan. This information may form the basis of public materials developed for this event. We encourage interested collaborations to also download the worksheet that will allow each collaboration to share more detail with us about your specific indicators, data, and strategies you are using as you develop these plans. Only 1 submission per collaboration needs to be submitted and campuses may submit additional materials (if desired) through the use of appendices, which should be submitted to

Please submit this form no later than COB Friday, October 30, 2015.

We intend to make the description of goals and commitments public in conjunction with the summit in the fall. While we intend to invite as many organizations making commitments as possible, we have not finalized the details of the event and will share more information in the coming weeks.

Roberto J. Rodriguez is Deputy Assistant to the President for Education.

Look and Listen: 10 Reasons Why We Can’t Afford to Cut Education Funding

Cross-posted from The White House Blog.

As you might have seen, House Republicans released their Fiscal Year 2016 budget this week — and to put it very simply, its priorities are pretty different from those in the President’s budget. The House GOP would cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires, all while slashing investments in the middle class that we know would grow the economy — particularly in job training, manufacturing, and education.

Their budget would cut funding for pre-k through 12 education (also known as “Title I Funding”) by $3.1 billion. That money could fund 4,500 schools, 17,000 teachers and aides, and 1.9 million students.

Earlier this week, the President met with superintendents and other school officials from all across the country. Each of them brought at least one object — from photos to books to charts — that represented what this vital funding means to their school districts.

Every American should know exactly what disinvestment in Pre-K through 12 education would mean for school districts around the country. Listen to each of these school leaders describe the vital programs in their districts that Title I helps fund.

1. “Acceleration Academies” that provide a month’s worth of learning in one week’s time.

Michael O’Neill, Chairperson of the Boston School Committee (Boston, MA)

2. A “Parent Academy” that has helped more than 3,000 parents prepare their kids to apply for college.

Barbara Jenkins, Superintendent, Orange County Public Schools (Orange County, FL)

3. “Parent University” college bus tours that make college a reality for more underserved kids.

Eric Gordon, Superintendent, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (Cleveland, OH)

4. A “Focus on Freshman” mentorship program that has increased graduation rates by more than 10 percent.

Valeria Silva, Superintendent, ISD 625 – St. Paul Public Schools (St. Paul, MN)

5. Extended school days that result in double-digit gains in math and reading scores.

Kaya Henderson, D.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction (Washington, D.C.)

6. Professional mentorship programs that connect students with professionals in cutting-edge fields.

Juan Cabrera, Superintendent, El Paso Independent School District (El Paso, TX)

7. Smaller classes that provide more direct attention to students in need of support.

Richard Carranza, Superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District (San Francisco, CA)

8. College and career-preparation programs that make sure students are ready to succeed.

Darienne Driver, Superintendent, Milwaukee Public Schools (Milwaukee, WI)

9. Development classes that have reduced truancy issues among young black students.

Jumoke Hinton, Board Member, Oakland Unified School District (Oakland, CA)

10. An after-school robotics team that competes regionally.

Airick West, Board Member, Kansas City Public Schools (Kansas City, MO)

At a time when it’s more important than ever to make sure young people have the skills they need to compete in a modern economy, the House Republican budget would bring per-pupil education funding to its lowest levels since 2000.

If you don’t want to see that happen, then make sure as many people as possible know what’s at stake.

Roberto J. Rodríguez is Deputy Assistant to the President for Education.