A Survey of State Initiatives
The Minnesota legislature this year passed a number of measures to strengthen mathematics and science education, including a comprehensive Educational Technology Act. Funded at $5.8 million for the biennium, the act will provide funds for inservice training in the use of educational technology, the establishment of up to 10 demonstration sites around the state, and development and evaluation of educational software.
Most of the efforts are to be directed at promoting "computer literacy," programming, and applications, rather than computer-assisted instruction. Funds have also been allocated to help districts buy software rated as superior by state evaluators.
Another $500,000 was appropriated for inservice training for teachers of mathematics, science, and social studies. To be conducted by the state education department--probably through contractors in some areas--the inservice efforts will be modeled closely after the "refresher" institutes formerly sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
A third initiative that could bear on math and science education is the creation of an Academic Excellence Foundation. The group, whose directors include leaders from business, government, education, and civic groups, is charged with identifying and recognizing outstanding students, teachers, and programs, and with establishing such programs as summer institutes for talented students and "mentor" arrangements with businesses and institutions. Established with $150,000 in state money, the foundation is expected to raise funds privately for many of its projects.
The work of another group, the Minnesota Alliance for Science, got under way in June. Supported by the Bush Foundation and the University of Minnesota, the group is to explore ways to improve math and science education in kindergarten through grade 12, possibly including course requirements, ways of sharing teachers, and methods of informing the general public of the importance of the subjects. The alliance's policy recommendations are to be submitted to the state board of education in late summer or fall.
The state currently requires only that students take science and math through grade 9. However, according to David L. Dye, the education department's math specialist, about half the schools in the state require a second year of math, and more than half require a second year of science, generally biology. The state colleges and universities are in the early stages of discussing stiffer admission requirements in math, science, and foreign languages.
Although the state's colleges are producing few new science and math teachers, the shortage is not now severe, Mr. Dye said, because K-12 enrollments have declined markedly. About 5 percent of secondary math teachers are not properly licensed and are teaching with one-year state waivers.
"Projections are that we probably won't start really hurting until about 1990, when our student population in secondary schools bottoms out," Mr. Dye said.
A bill that would have provided forgivable loans for prospective teachers was withdrawn when the U.S. Congress began deliberations on similar legislation.
The Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, considered a leading agency nationwide in the development and distribution of educational technology, underwent some structural changes during the 1983 legislative session. Once a full-fledged state agency, the mecc is now "quasi-public" and has been freed of certain state-government restrictions on salaries and hiring policies. It develops software, which it sells at cost to Minnesota schools and other dues-paying members at cost and at a profit to other schools. It also acts as a broker for several computer firms, supplying hardware to schools at below-market prices.
Minnesota does not require computer courses--"largely because we haven't agreed on what constitutes computer literacy," Mr. Dye noted--but that may be considered by the Alliance for Science.