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A Survey of State Initiatives

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Montana was short some 20 to 25 mathematics teachers last year. If the 31 new math teachers who graduated in June from state education programs went into the schools and if no teachers retired or left the profession, the state would have no shortage, according to Daniel Dolan, math and computer education specialist for Montana's office of public instruction.

But the state will probably still face a shortage "in the neighborhood of 20 math teachers," Mr. Dolan said, because not all the new graduates will go into teaching and there is likely to be some attrition among the existing teaching force. Last year, about 9 of the 16 newly graduated math teachers went into teaching.

The shortage of science teachers is more acute, according to Gary Hall, science specialist for the state department of education. "Montana is a rural state, and there are many teachers taking on multiple assignments and teaching biology, chemistry, physics. As a result, teachers are forced to instruct in areas where they have no endorsement," Mr. Hall said. He estimated that about 5 percent of the state's 700 science teachers are teaching subjects for which they are not qualified.

The state board of education in June launched a year-long review of education standards that could result in upgraded minimum standards for high-school graduation--including more years of study in math and science. If the state board approves higher standards, the shortage of math and science teachers will increase.

Another study for the state board, to be completed in October, will address the need to raise certification standards for math and science teachers.

The board may add one year of study in science to the existing one-year requirement, education department officials say, but they "doubt seriously" if the board will add an extra year to the existing two-year mathematics requirement.

A science-education task force comprising teachers, university representatives, and education-department officials this spring called for: additional science requirements for high-school graduation; increased math study for students who take science; more career education in science; upgraded certification standards for science teachers; improved elementary-level science programs; and limits on class size in laboratory sciences.

The findings of the study are to be presented to the state superintendent and the state board in September. No legislative action is expected for two years because the legislature is not scheduled to meet again until 1985.

This fall, the math departments at five higher-education institutions in the University of Montana system and at two private colleges will for the first time institute a math placement test for all new students. The results of the examinations will be sent to the school districts.

All newly trained teachers in Montana, beginning this year, must be able to use a computer in their area of specialization.

Eastern Montana College in Billings is beginning a two-year program this summer to recertify a limited number of teachers from local schools in math.

About 96 percent of elementary-and secondary school students have access to computers. The ratio of computers to students statewide is 1 to 84 and should be about 1 to 60 or 70 in "the next year or so," according to Mr. Dolan.

The state has taken advantage of two National Science Foundation grants in implementing computer instruction. A grant of more than $30,000 for the 1980-81 school year allowed the state to train more than 20 regional computer consultants who now run inservice training programs for the districts. A $28,000 grant in 1981-82 helped the state conduct 20 regional computer conferences over a two-year period. Some 75 districts each sent five people to the conferences. As a follow-up to the conferences, the state developed a traveling computer library and training program that moves from district to district.

In April, the legislature passed a law that provides a 30-percent tax write-off to individuals or corporations who give computers manufactured after 1978 to schools. Several legislators tried, but failed, to enact a bill providing $1 million in funding for computer-education programs.

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