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New STEM Initiatives, National Science Fair Touted by White House

WASHINGTON – Hey kids, grab those beakers and Petri dishes, the White House is going to hold a science fair.

President Barack Obama said Monday he would convene a national science fair next year to honor young inventors with the same gusto that college and professional athletes celebrate their victories at the White House.

“You know, if you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House,” said Obama, a sports fan as much as a science nerd. “Well, if you’re a young person and you produce the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too. Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models.”

He said they would show young students how “cool science can be.” He noted $260 million in companies’ donations to take science into more classrooms with television programs and celebrity science personalities.

The president made his remarks as he decried what he described as students’ lagging performance.

“Now, the hard truth is that for decades we’ve been losing ground,” Obama said. “One assessment shows American 15-year-olds now rank 21st in science and 25th in math when compared to their peers around their world.”

Obama cited a test given to 15-year-olds in 30 developed countries, the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA.

Some experts caution that PISA is different from other tests, especially those in the United States, and makes American kids look worse than other tests do.

But other tests show that while U.S. kids trail those in a handful of high-achieving Asian countries Singapore, Taiwan and Japan they hold their own in the larger group of developed countries that comes next.

In fact, the United States has gained on some of its toughest competitors since 1995, making bigger strides in math than Singapore and Japan, and in science than Japan.

That’s according to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS. Researchers involved in TIMSS say the United States is not trailing the developed world by any stretch of the imagination.

Also on Monday Obama tapped Xerox Chief Executive Ursula Burns to help lead an education initiative aimed at helping students excel at science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Burns is the first African-American woman to lead Xerox as its CEO.

The STEM initiative will be led by Burns, former Intel Corp. CEO Dr. Craig Barrett, Time Warner Cable Inc. CEO Glenn Britt and former astronaut Dr. Sally Ride.

Burns, a mechanical engineer, joined Xerox as a student intern nearly 30 years ago and became CEO in July.

She said in a statement that companies like Xerox depend on the fresh ideas of people to succeed.

“If we inspire young people today, we secure our ability innovate tomorrow,” she said.

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