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Obama announces new education initiative led by corporate CEOs

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Making America's students number one
  • The Change the Equation initiative involves 100 CEOs
  • It focuses on education in science, technology, engineering and math
  • Better math and science education now is vital for future success, Obama says

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama on Thursday announced a new initiative led by the top executives of major U.S. corporations that seeks to improve education in science, technology, engineering and math.

The nonprofit initiative, called Change the Equation, involves 100 chief executive officers and has $5 million in funding for its first year of operation, according to information provided by the White House.

"These are actually the kinds of things that 10 years from now, 20 years from now, we're going to look back and say it really made a difference," Obama said.

The initiative was founded by former astronaut Sally Ride, former Intel Chairman Craig Barrett, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, and Eastman Kodak CEO Antonio Perez, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, according to the White House statement.

Ride told CNN on Thursday that American students need new inspiration to learn the so-called STEM subjects -- science, technology, engineering and math -- to compete in the global workforce and help restore the United States as a leader in innovative research and development.

"For the last 20 to 25 years, our society really hasn't put a focus on the importance of math and science education. We're starting to pay the price," Ride said, noting that the United States has slipped in global rankings of math and science literacy among students.

The goals of Change the Equation are to improve teaching in STEM subjects, inspire student learning in those subjects and achieve a national commitment to improve education in them, according to the White House. Obama said achieving them is vital for the nation's future economic success and vitality.

"The cost of inaction is immeasurable," Obama said, citing the lost participation of children who never get encouraged or exposed to education in STEM subjects.

Some programs under the initiative would expand summer science camps for girls, allow more students to take part in robotics competitions, increase teacher training, and help students take advanced placement courses in math and science, the White House statement said. Obama also announced new public-private partnerships promoting better STEM education, including a robotics competition for students.

Ride said business leaders were motivated to create the new initiative because "they realize their future depends on it," noting that "80 percent of jobs of the next decade are going to require some background, some basic skills in math and science."

"We do need inspiration for the kids growing up today," Ride said. "The space program did it for my generation. Maybe it will do it for the next generation." Another goal is to "humanize" the subjects of science, math and engineering, Ride said, so that kids "don't think all scientists are old dead guys."