By Austin Carr
Editor's note: Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died on Monday of pancreatic cancer. She was 61. Outside her trail-blazing career as an astronaut, Ride was also a major champion of STEM education. In 2010, she helped found an initiative called Change the Education to bolster student engagement in math and science programs. Here, again, is that story from September 16, 2010.
Out of 30 industrialized nations, the United States ranks 21st in science and 25th in math. We're spending more money than ever on schools, but with few results. Huge federal programs such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are clunky, slow-moving bureaucratic nightmares. The American education system is broken. In order to fix it, the public sector needs to start keeping pace with the private sector. How? By getting the private sector involved.
[On September 19, 2010], President Obama announced the launch of Change the Equation, a CEO-driven initiative to increase student literacy in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). More than 100 companies joined forces--from Facebook to Microsoft, DreamWorks to Google--to improve education in these fields, which will account for some eight million jobs by 2018.
"Change the Equation (CTE) is funded by, directed by, and run with the urgency of the private sector," explains Craig Barrett, chair of CTE and former CEO of Intel. "The best people to get kids interested in STEM, are the ones doing STEM."
Barrett says that while many of these companies already invest heavily in education--Intel alone invests $100 million annually--CTE is a vehicle to consolidate their efforts in STEM education. Corporations will drive change on a local level, pushing state politicians to move faster, promoting the adoption of common curriculums, and sponsoring science fairs, robotics competitions, and teacher training programs--the crucial starting points for inspiring children to enter a STEM-related field. What's more, CTE will also produce state report cards on education, and drive more private philanthropic involvement in STEM literacy.
"We really want these companies putting their money on the ground, into actual programs, and not just sending it off to Washington," says Barrett."Change the Equation can change the national dialogue around literacy in science, technology, engineering and math," said Sally Ride.
Likely the most important impact these major companies can have is to inspire children through STEM--the same way the space race served as inspiration for students in the past.
"Change the Equation can change the national dialogue around literacy in science, technology, engineering and math," says Sally Ride, another founding member of the initiative. "Literacy is not just being able to read anymore. It's being able to read, to calculate, to analyze--we as a nation need to change the way we think of literacy."
Ride, who inspired generations of students as the first woman in space, hopes technology companies will have a similar impact on STEM education.
"Kids use Facebook, they have cell phones--they are all participants in this new technology," she says. "If we can show them that all of these things rely on technology, it will be a great way to engage them."
"This is the technology that kids hold in their hands every day," echoes Barrett. "They can see how it changes their lives, and how it will change life in the future. This is the message we want to drive."
Will Change the Equation improve fluency and interest in science, technology, engineering, and math? Will private sector companies such as DreamWorks and Google inspire a new generation of children just as NASA has in the past? One thing is for certain: Their efforts are far more inspiring than any disjointed and sluggish effort so far put forth by the public sector.
To find out more, head to Change the Equation.
Copyright 2012 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.