Obama Aims to Develop STEM Master Teacher Corps

July 18, 2012

 The White House today is turning its attention back to STEM education, as the Obama administration lays out plans to launch a national "master-teacher corps" to recognize and reward top educators in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The goal over four years is to identify 10,000 such STEM master teachers around the nation, the White House says.

There are essentially two prongs to the announcement. The first is contingent upon Congress agreeing to pony up $1 billion as part of a larger, new program President Obama first proposed in February. Suffice to say that in the current fiscal and political environment, that will be no small hurdle. From what I can tell, the president is now essentially getting more specific, saying that one-fifth of the $5 billion proposal for a RESPECT Program will be carved out for the STEM master-teacher corps. (RESPECT stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching.)

The White House says a smaller amount, $100 million (no chump change) is already available as part of the fiscal 2012 budget adopted by Congress. In fact, this announcement is not exactly new, as the U.S. Department of Education in June issued a press release signaling that STEM education would be a featured component of the latest round of grants under the Teacher Incentive Fund. The deadline for district applications for this money is July 27, so any districts still interested better act fast.

Not surprisingly, the president—who some may recall is in the midst of a tight re-election campaign—emphasized the initiative as important to promoting jobs.

"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," he said in a press release. "Teachers matter, and great teachers deserve our support."

The initiative will be discussed today at an event at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue involving senior White House officials, as well as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and a group of math and science teachers.

The White House announcement says that with the $100 million to get started, 2,500 master teachers will be identified around the country at 50 sites in all. This funding will help districts implement what the White House calls "high-quality plans to establish career ladders that identify, develop, and leverage highly effective STEM teachers." The corps would eventually grow to 10,000 master teachers if Congress agrees to support the president's plans for the RESPECT program.

"These selected teachers will make a multiyear commitment to the Corps and, in exchange for their expertise, leadership, and service, will receive an annual stipend of up to $20,000 on top of their base salary," the White House press release says.

As the White House notes, the idea for a STEM master-teacher corps was one of the key recommendations of a 2010 report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

"The federal government should support the creation of a national STEM Master-Teacher Corps that recognizes, rewards, and engages the best STEM teachers and elevates the status of the profession," that report said. "It should recognize the top 5 percent of all STEM teachers in the nation, and corps members should receive significant salary supplements as well as funds to support activities in their schools and districts."