Tuesday, September 27, 2011

President Obama’s LinkedIn Town Hall: How Does STEM Education Fit with the American Jobs Act?

On September 26th, President Obama and LinkedIn presented a Town Hall discussion at the Computer History Museum in Palo Alto, CA. The theme of the Town Hall, “Putting America Back to Work,” was aimed at addressing questions about the proposed American Jobs Act. Participants at the Town Hall included LinkedIn members and employees and was moderated by the CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner. I was lucky to be one of the approximately 20 members chosen to attend the event and have the chance to ask the President a question about how he plans to get America back to work.

LinkedIn set up a discussion group (which is still active) asking its members to submit questions. The company also reached out to active members through a survey and direct contacts. The team coordinating the event selected questions and attendees that represented a variety of interests and groups from all across the country—our questions topics ranged from unemployment insurance, Medicare and Social Security, tax reform, encouragement and tips for job seekers, and of course, education.

I’ve expressed in previous blog posts the idea that investing in STEM afterschool education is important for educating America’s future workforce. The President has expressed interest and support for STEM education in the past—as in his 2009 launch of the Educate to Innovate initiative—so I was curious to find out if and how support for STEM education was specifically included in the American Jobs Act.

While I wasn’t able to ask my question due to time constraints, the President did include science and math education in some of his answers to other questions asked by audience members, including the need to recruit and train qualified teachers and provide incentives for students to study science and math. He described a partnership between New York Public Schools and IBM to get kids excited about learning STEM skills:

IBM is engaged in a really interesting experience in New York… and this is not for the kids who are in the top 1 percent, this is for ordinary public school kids…. You follow this program, you work hard, IBM will hire you at the end of this process. And it suddenly gives kids an incentive. They say, oh, the reason I'm studying math and science is there's a practical outcome here. I will have a job. And there are practical applications to what I'm doing in the classroom.

The ideas that the President expressed in his support for STEM education are an integral part of many afterschool programs, and out-of-school time represents an important opportunity for getting students excited about STEM. Students already have little time for science learning—a 2007 study done in the San Francisco Bay Area showed that 80% of K-5 teachers spent 60 minutes or less per week on science, with 16% spending no time at all. While clearly reforms need to be made for school-day learning, afterschool learning time can help to fill the gap as well as promote experiences that may never be a part of the school day. Out-of-school learning can range from internships and research apprenticeships with scientists to robotics teams to science center exhibits—all of which have the power to activate and inspire learning and future STEM workers.

Thank you to LinkedIn and the White House for this incredible opportunity. I encourage all of our readers to watch the rest of the event (or read a transcript) and to continue to promote out-of-school time STEM learning opportunities in their communities.

--Kalie Sacco, Manager, Coalition for Science After School

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