According to several educational research studies the United States is falling behind other countries in math and science achievement by middle school and high school students. Now, there's a push by several U.S. federal government agencies - including the U.S. space agency NASA - to create programs that will encourage students to study for careers in science and technology.
These students are taking part in experiments designed to test their knowledge and inspire them to concentrate on science, technology, engineering and math. Charles Bolden, the head of the U.S. space agency, NASA, and Lisa Jackson from the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, came to this Washington, D.C. middle school to encourage these youngsters to focus on math and science careers.
"If you want to be competitive the more study you have done the better," Bolden said. "The critical part at the end of whatever the level of study you are going to do is to get yourself involved in something that puts you into a laboratory."
In the 2011 U.S. federal budget, both NASA and the EPA propose to spend more than $146 million on programs to increase student and teacher proficiency in science and technology disciplines.
"We really need to reach down into the schools as low as possible," he said. "We want middle school kids and their teachers to increase their level of achievement in science and math and for their teachers to increase their level of performance in teaching those subjects."
Efforts to strengthen math and science education come at a time when 15-year-old U.S.students rank 25th in math literacy and 30th in science literacy - among the 57 countries participating in the Program for International Student Assessment.
Administrator Bolden says other studies indicate the United States is not preparing enough students and teachers to meet the demand in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
"The nations that lead everybody in math and science education are Finland and the Scandinavian countries and we [the United States] are well behind. President Obama's efforts and his emphasis on education particularly technical ducation science and math, to want to have every kid in college by 2020, is to be applauded and that's a goal that we at NASA are really going to make sure that he can accomplish," Bolden stated.
NASA is launching a three-year program called "Summer of Innovation." It will target middle school students during their summer recess to take part in intensive math and science learning programs. Those will include follow-on activities during the school year. Educators say the goal will be to improve student academic performance in math, science and technology courses, while giving them the tools they need to build lasting professional careers in a 21st-century, knowledge-based economy.