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A Survey of State Initiatives

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In Nebraska, a report released in February by the teacher-placement division at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln revealed a serious shortage of mathematics and science teachers, according to state science consultant Donald D. Woodburn.

The teacher-placement division received requests from school districts for 464 new junior- and senior-high school math teachers, but the school only graduated 18 new teachers. There were requests for 164 science teachers, but only 10 new teachers were trained.

All of the state's teacher-training programs combined graduated only about 50 math teachers last year, according to Donald F. Niemann, math consultant for the state department of education. About half of those graduates chose to go into fields other than teaching.

To help ease the teacher shortage and to encourage more students to enter mathematics- and science-education programs, the state legislature this spring passed a bill that would set aside $100,000 per year to provide low-interest loans of up to $500 per semester for students who major in math and science education. The loans will also be made available to certified teachers who want to receive an endorsement in math or science education. The loans are not "forgivable" and must be paid back at 5-percent interest.

State education officials met last month with representatives from 12 colleges and universities to encourage them to develop special summer math and science programs for talented 7th graders.

A legislative study group is currently assessing the quality of educational programs throughout the state. The legislature might recommend that local districts upgrade their high-school graduation requirements. The state board of education has set no state mandates for math and science education, but individual districts, on average, require two years, officials said.

Beginning in 1986, the three campuses of the University of Nebraska system will require entering freshman to have completed two years of study in mathematics in high school (starting with algebra) and two years of study in laboratory science, among other changes. The state colleges are now in the process of raising entrance standards.

Gov. Robert Kerrey appointed a task force on excellence in education to examine the quality of the high-school curriculum, reorganization of school districts and funding for high-school programs.

Computer literacy is mandated only in individual districts, state officials said. The state assists in determining district needs and in arranging discounts for bulk purchasing of computer hardware and software.

Next year, the state will establish a telecommunications network that is to include an electronic mail system that will provide a catalogue of educational software available for schools.

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