President Barack Obama announced a plan Monday to improve mathematics and science education by working with corporate donors who will spend at least $260 million over the next four years to get kids to watch “Sesame Street” and play video games.
While the Obama administration should encourage foundations and businesses to make donations to education, this seems like a serious misuse of funds.
Obama said the Educate to Innovate Campaign aims to bring the U.S. to the forefront in math and science education in the next decade.
“Now, the hard truth is that for decades we’ve been losing ground,” he 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.”
For such an ambitious goal, the administration’s tactics seem a little dubious.
Time Warner Cable, Discovery Communications and others have pledged to produce math and science programming for students.
Twenty of the next 26 episodes of “Sesame Street” will also feature content related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, according to Wired.
While programming like “Sesame Street” may be helpful as a supplement to education, it cannot be a substitute to an actual teacher. Especially in poor areas, all funding should be directed toward more basic education needs, like teachers and facilities.
Making educational programming that actually helps students and children is not down to a science yet, either. Businesses may think their shows will help children, but the opposite may be true.
Take the “Baby Einstein” videos for example, which in a 2007 study by the University of Washington were found to actually make kids less intelligent. Researchers found the videos reduced toddlers’ ability to understand new words by 17 percent.
Video games have an even more tenuous value to quality education.
Educators don’t fully understand how video games can be used in education, said Sharon P. Robinson, president and chief executive of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
She said they might not be the best approach for reaching children in the poorer urban and rural parts of the U.S.
Sony, The Entertainment Software Association and the private MacArthur Foundation are hosting competitions for educational video game development.
One competition involves “the creation of new game experiences using PlayStation’s popular video game, “LittleBigPlanet,” according to a press release. Sony will donate 1,000 PlayStation 3 systems and copies of the game to libraries and community organizations in poor communities.
Low-income communities do not need expensive video games to help children learn. Before Obama supporters spend millions on math and science education, they need to focus on strategies that actually work.