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President Obama launches STEM Master Teacher Corps

GERREN KEITH GAYNOR Special to the AmNews | 4/11/2013, 4:21 p.m.
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Last week, the Obama administration launched the STEM Master Teacher Corps, a program that will consist of a network of "exceptional" teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) who will train other educators in an attempt to improve the overall quality of the American education system.

Through an unspecified criteria, the Board of Education will select the country's most prized educators in the STEM fields, who will then use their exemplary skills to train other teachers. The master teacher corps will contain classroom-based educators who are highly effective in improving learning outcomes for their students and will model outstanding teaching and share their practices and strategies with their professional colleagues to lead and guide improvements across education, according to a briefing from the White House.

Those selected as master teachers will make a multi-year commitment for their service and expertise and will receive an annual stipend of up to $20,000 on top of their base salary. "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. Teachers matter, and great teachers deserve our support," said President Barack Obama in a press statement.

The president hopes this plan of action will shift U.S. students from the middle to the top of the pack when juxtaposed with their global counterparts in the math and science fields. Despite vast technological advances, America continues to lag behind other countries. According to the National Academies, a nonprofit that provides expert advice on science and technology, the United States was ranked No. 27 out of 29 wealthy countries. Among developing countries, America was ranked 48th out of 133 in quality math and science instruction by the Economic World Forum.

The STEM Master Teacher Corps was built after a key recommendation from the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in an effort to retain America's most talented STEM teachers and strengthen STEM education in America's public schools. The initiative will begin with 50 teachers in 50 sites and will eventually expand to 10,000 educators across the country over the next four years. The program will be jumpstarted with approximately $100 million of existing funds available through the Board of Education's Teacher Incentive Fund competition and will be supported by an additional $1 billion from the president's 2013 budget request currently under consideration by Congress.

Janell Catlin, Ph.D., professor of science at Columbia University Teachers College, said she thinks the administration's STEM Master Teacher Corps is a step in the right direction. "Teachers in this nation are overworked and underpaid. Being able to form this corps of teachers who will help lead their colleagues to becoming master teachers, and therefore improve the education in the classrooms, is phenomenal," Catlin said. "It further emphasizes the fact that teaching is a true profession. Being able to give teachers that financial incentive is also very key."

Catlin, the project director of the Harlem Schools Partnership for Science and Math Education, emphasized the need for under-resourced schools in more "struggle areas" to benefit from the program. "It's going to give teachers the pedagogical skills in order to teach the material to their students," she said.

Felicia Moore Mensah, also a professor of science at Teachers College, said she is skeptical of the projected number of teachers to join the STEM corps. "As a national number, 10,000 is probably not a lot," she said. However, Mensah hopes the administration will put forth an effort in selecting educators on the elementary science level, which she emphasized as the educational foundation for students.

The administration said that the STEM Master Teacher Corps will be established in 100 sites, each with 50 STEM educators, through a "highly competitive process." It remains unclear when that process will begin, though the administration said that it will be administered locally or regionally and will be aligned with a set of national benchmarks.