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The Right Sort: Improved Teaching Is Goal of Varied Initiatives

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Several Boston-area school systems and the Digital Equipment Corporation are initiating a tricky experiment this summer--they will try to lure mathematics and science majors into teaching.

The bait is 14 months of tuition-free graduate work combined with well-paid stints in student teaching and semester-long jobs at the computer company; the hook is a three-year commitment to teach science or math in a public school. So far, they have 21 candidates.

The project is one of a range of recent initiatives across the country intended to address the critical shortages of able math and science teachers.

Knowledgeable educators, who are watching these developments with interest, are already expressing concern, however, that they are thus far too fragmented and lacking in coherence to get at the problems they are intended to solve. And some say they doubt whether the remedies now being considered will produce many more good teachers.

"We're developing a bandwagon mentality. But what are the goals of all of these schemes? I don't see any," says Robert Yager, professor of science education at the University of Iowa and past president of the National Science Teachers Association.

"In North Carolina, shortages are more severe in physics than in biology. Does it make sense, then, to give scholarships to all science majors?" asks Robert T. Williams, a dean in the school of education at North Carolina State University and an advisor to the state's board of science and technology. "Solutions need to be shaped to address particular problems. It's not being done."


Efforts to staff math and science classrooms with competent people have so far focused on some sort of monetary incentive to attract more academically able and better-trained individuals into the profession. Some 25 states are considering or already implementing policies that would provide scholarships or forgivable loans to college students who agree to teach math or science in the public schools. A year ago, only a few states were pursuing this concept.

The loan-forgiveness idea is not a new one. In 1958, the National Defense Education Act (ndea) authorized forgiveness of 10 percent of principal and interest on federal loans to college students for each year they taught in a public school. This option is still available in a modified form under the National Direct Student Loan program. According to James B. Stedman of the Consional Research Service, more than a million students have had nearly $500,000 in loans forgiven since 1958.

Several bills now pending in Congress would extend forgivable loans to those who agree to teach math and science. And several states already have such programs.

Kentucky's loan program for math and science teachers, begun last year, was the first state plan to be implemented in this recent wave of initiatives and has become a model for other states.

Under the plan, math or science majors who are sophomores, juniors, or seniors may receive up to $2,500 per year between 1982 and 1984. One year of teaching in a Kentucky school cancels one year's loan. During the 1982-83 school year, the program's first year of operation, 102 full-time college students received the scholarships. Some have graduated, and 47 applied for a second year. About 150 students in all are expected to participate next year.

But the past record of such loan programs has not been strong, studies show. And a number of experts question the ultimate value of the state plans that are now under development.

Primarily because federal loans are relatively small, borrowers often find it easier to repay the loans than to fulfill their commitment to teach. That prompted a Senate Committee to conclude in 1976, "There is no evidence that such provisions have made the difference in a student's career choice."

Stephen Willoughby, professor of math education at New York University and president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, adds: "If science or math majors decide to work for ibm instead of teaching, their salary will allow them to repay a loan in less than a year."

On the other hand, loan or scholarship arrangements that call for a binding commitment to the profession appear to be more effective. A federal program created in 1972 to increase the numbers of doctors, dentists, and other health professionals in rural and inner-city areas requires such a pledge, in return for tuition, fees, books, and a monthly stipend. Analysts, including those from the General Accounting Office, have concluded that the program has been successful, although few people continue to work in their assigned regions after fulfilling their two-year commitment.


Other types of incentives are also being tried. Some school systems, including those in Richmond, Va., and Oklahoma City, are paying bonuses to new math and science teachers. In Richmond, such teachers earn 00 over two years in return for a two-year teaching commitment.

The Houston Independent School District, under a widely publicized scheme, pays math and science teachers an extra $2,000 per year if they miss an average of five or fewer days of school a year. The district says it has decreased its shortage of math and science teachers significantly since it began offering bonuses in 1979.

This fall, new teachers in shortage areas in Dade County, Fla., will start $600 higher on the district's salary scale.

But the major teachers' unions are adamantly opposed to this "market pay," as they call the practice of paying teachers of one subject more than those of another. Other observers have reservations, too.

"I have great misgivings [about the concept]," says Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. "There are enormously disturbing value judgments involved. You can easily have a situation where a teacher is paid more than another but very well may be only half as good a teacher."

"It has crept sub rosa into higher education," adds Mr. Boyer, a former chancellor of the State University of New York. "But it is accommodated in the shadows, rather than being a clear policy--though it is true that average faculty salaries are higher in engineering, say, than in English."

The growing interest in financial incentives for math and science teachers reflects one of the major reasons for the inadequate supply of teachers in those fields: low salaries. The average beginning salary for a public-school teacher in 1981-82 was $12,007, compared with $22,368 for first-year engineers, according to National Education Association figures.

But some doubt that such incentives can make a difference. "A couple of thousand dollars, in competition with industry, is virtually irrelevant," contends Eugenia Kemble, special assistant to Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Adds Mr. Boyer: "Public schools are not going to be able to buy themselves into the science and math market, and it's ludicrous to think they can."


The sharp drop in the number of science and math teachers being graduated from the education schools (each school trained an average of 3.5 math teachers in 1982, compared to 28 in 1971), the large numbers of teachers being laid off in other subject areas, and moves by many states to increase math and science course requirements, have caused some groups to urge that efforts be focused on retraining teachers. The nsta, in particular, advocates concentrating on updating the skills of those currently teaching math and science and on training instructors of other subjects to teach math and science.

Proponents of this approach say it is the only reasonable short-term solution to an immediate problem.

Several types of retraining programs have been developed recently. Philadelphia addresses teachers' anxiety about job security by guaranteeing employment to teachin other fields who agree to be retrained in math and science. In Houston, the school system pays tuition, the cost of books, and a $250-per-course stipend to teachers of other subjects who switch to math or science under "Project Search."

But most retraining proposals, including those incorporated in several bills under consideration in Congress, focus on so-called summer institutes, which are typically six- or eight-week sessions conducted by university faculty members.

Thousands of such institutes were conducted under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation (nsf) between 1954 and 1974. About half of all the nation's secondary-school math and science teachers passed through these federally sponsored programs during the 20-year period.

Among the researchers who have evaluated the nsf institutes, there is general agreement that they improved math and science teachers' understanding of their subjects and encouraged them to continue their careers in education.

But the nsf institutes focused on upgrading the skills of teachers already teaching math and science, whereas today the need is, in large part, to teach math and science subjects to teachers from other fields or to qualify teachers in one branch of science to teach another. Furthermore, the nsf institutes were aimed at secondary-school teachers; most experts today agree that elementary- and junior-high-school teachers need to be reached as well.

In addition, the nsf programs flourished during a period when there was not only a consensus about the need to improve science and math education but also about the propriety of a substantial federal role in the task. Now, a sluggish economy and a President who opposes more than minimal federal involvement in education create a less favorable climate for the kinds of success nsf claimed between 1954 and 1974.

Today, there are several new projects that focus on upgrading the skills of current math and science teachers. The Dreyfus Institute on High School Chemistry at Princeton University, for example, brings 50 top high-school chemistry teachers together with professors from various universities for four weeks of work in chemistry. It was founded last summer.

And several corporations--including United Technologies, Connecticut General, and General Electric--sponsor a four-year-old summer institute at Wesleyan University in Connecticut for math teachers of grades 4 through 8. The institute is directed by members of the university's faculty.


But some question the value of efforts to retrain teachers of other subjects to teach math and science.

"The non-mathematics teacher who makes the commitment, who has the ability, and who becomes adequately prepared [to teach the subject] is rather rare in my experience," James W. Wilson, professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, told a conference sponsored by the Council for Basic Education in April.

Mr. Williams of North Carolina State said his university recently turned down the state's request that it conduct an institute for non-science and non-math teachers this summer because the curriculum wasweak. "It was not up to undergraduate standards," he said. "There is a tendency to sprinkle them with a little physics, a little chemistry, et cetera. On the other hand, a lot of teachers shop around, looking for a 'quickie"'--a brief retraining program that will give them minimum qualifications to teach math or science.

Retraining programs are also expensive. The nsf spent roughly $514 million on its institutes over a 20-year period, according to the foundation's figures. The science teachers' association estimates that as much as $1 billion would be needed to retrain 100,000 teachers in a three-year program of summer institutes and shorter seminars during the school year.

Another, more modest, means of addressing the shortage of math and science teachers, some suggest, would be to rewrite teacher-seniority rules to prohibit the firing of math and science teachers in order to accommodate senior teachers in other subject areas who then take over the classes of their departed junior colleagues.

The New Jersey state board of education recently reformed its seniority regulations to preclude any teacher, even one with an "endorsement" in a particular subject, from "bumping" a less senior colleague in that subject unless the senior teacher has actually taught the subject.

Many observers, though, assert that in addition to low pay, the teaching profession itself is unattractive to math and science majors; only when changes are made in working conditions will incentive plans to attract bright people to those fields be effective, even relevant, they argue.

"The appeal of private-sector jobs is becoming more and more irresistible, especially for able math and science teachers," says Mr. Boyer of the Carnegie Foundation. "And it's not just salary, it's the prospects for advancement, for staying in touch with one's profession, for an enjoyable work environment."

"Recruitment plans, regardless of the bait, will be fruitless unless the conditions that cause teachers to leave in the first place are remedied," Mr. Boyer adds.


Mr. Boyer and other observers say the teaching profession needs to be more flexible to accommodate, for example, part-time teachers such as retirees and volunteers from the business community who have math or science training.

And others, such as Theodore R. Sizer, chairman of "A Study of High Schools," say teachers must have more autonomy in their work, have the opportunity to take on different roles and responsibilities, and earn higher salaries in the process, while continuing to spend a majority of their time in the classroom. To a certain extent, they say, the crisis in math and science teaching is a crisis in teaching in general.

Harvard University has a new program designed specifically to help nonteachers with backgrounds in math or science move into public-school teaching in mid-career.

In the Houston school system, a "Teaching Partners" program allows people with a science background from outside the school system to share jobs with certified teachers. And a goal of the Boston-area program is to give teachers experience in both the classroom and the workplace.

Many firms have also begun to contribute personnel and materials under various "Adopt-a-School" arrangements. Legislation proposed by Senator John Glenn, Democrat of Ohio, and Representative Dave McCurdy, Democrat of Oklahoma, would give tax credits to businesses that hire public-school science or math teachers during the summer or that let their employees who are former teachers return to the classroom to teach 10 hours a week. Such legislation failed in the 97th Congress.

It appears that no state tax code now provides for this, although a state advisory panel in Florida has endorsed the idea.

Teachers' unions are somewhat leery of the use of industry employees as part-time teachers. Says Eugenia Kemble of the aft: "Cooperative arrangements may work as long as there is a regular full-time teacher in the classroom. And anyone who comes in mid-career should have to meet certification requirements."

The National Academy of Sciences, in a 1982 report, took a different position. It urged the creation of the position of "adjunct teacher, comparable to an adjunct professor in a university, for scientists who want to teach in schools but lack traditional certification."

Two widely publicized "master-teacher" plans now under development, a statewide plan in Tennessee and a district-level plan in Charlotte, N.C., would create different levels of teachers, each with separate salaries, responsibilities, and status. Such a system of "differentiated staffing," proponents contend, would offer the incentives and rewards needed to keep bright, ambis people--including math and science instructors--in teaching. Both plans would extend the contracts of teachers beyond the typical 10-month term.

Several states and some school systems are also developing more limited extended-contract schemes, again to provide a financial incentive to attract and hold math and science teachers.

Under a proposal before the state legislature, North Carolina would offer 30 percent of its math and science teachers summer contracts. "It's not just a free check," said Mr. Williams of North Carolina State. "They would do lab work, order supplies, inservice work, and other things."

"It's a lot better than working in a Dairy Queen all summer," says Mr. Yager, the past president of the science teachers' organization, in endorsing the idea.

Mr. Boyer says another way to attract good mathematicians and scientists into teaching is to create a number of regional magnet schools such as the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. Such schools, with highly motivated students and first-rate equipment, would offer the best teachers an attractive environment to work in, Mr. Boyer says.

"It is now clear that such high-caliber facilities are not going to exist in all schools," Mr. Boyer says. "So we are going to have to sort out the issue of training the generalist versus the specialist. And we are not going to address the needs of our best science and mathematics students or our best science and math teachers unless we make some changes. Conant's dream [of the comprehensive high school] is probably not deliverable."

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