Obama directs $250 million for science and math education
New funding will increase the number of science, technology, engineering, and math teachers. The goal is to improve US students' mediocre ranking in math and science performance.
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The focus on teaching is the right one, says Tracy Gray, managing director for the Center on STEM Education and Innovation at the American Institutes for Research, though the key is in how the programs are implemented.Skip to next paragraph
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“It’s necessary to have not just some good ideas and good intentions, but a very solid program that is based on evidence of what works, and that is provided to teachers on an ongoing basis,” says Dr. Gray. “A one-shot professional development initiative in August does not help the teacher in February…. The hope is that this [administration] effort, working with the business community, will generate enough funding so that teachers get enough support … to really ensure they have both the content and the pedagogical knowledge to reach all students.”
Programs selected have good track records
Most of the programs being highlighted already have a significant track record, providing extensive support and both practical and theoretical training to the teachers they produce.
“The prevailing myth is that students majoring in math, chemistry, biology, or physics aren’t interested in teaching, and we’ve significantly debunked that myth,” notes John Winn, chief program officer for the National Math and Science Initiative, whose UTeach program had 2,700 students enroll this year at the 13 universities where it currently exists. (It is expanding this year to about 20 schools.) More than 90 percent of UTeach graduates become teachers, and 82 percent are still in the classroom after five years.
The Woodrow Wilson partnership, meanwhile, operates much like a teaching residency program, paying students during their fellowship and asking for a three-year commitment to teach in high-need schools, with on-site mentoring throughout that period.
Just a few teachers, notes Dr. Levine, can make a big difference: In Michigan, the 120 teachers a year that the program will train will be enough to fill all anticipated vacancies in Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo, and the 80 teachers a year it has trained in Indiana is enough to increase the number of certified STEM teachers in the state by 20 percent.
“What we’ve asked [universities] to do is to create brand new programs that focus on student achievement as the goal and the marker of success, are clinically based, and move the instruction from the ivory tower into schools,” says Levine. “Even after this program is completed what we’ll have is a series of leading universities that have changed the way they prepare STEM teachers.”
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