Solutions to 'Science Crisis' Concentrate on Teacher Training

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Andy Kanengiser, a correspondent in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.

The summer months have produced more talk and some action on the much-discussed problems in precollege science and mathematics education, with legislation proposed or in effect in several Southern states, two federal bills introduced, and a national panel convened for the first time.

The proposed solutions concentrate on, but are not limited to, the training of more and better science and mathematics teachers. Some, however, involve demanding that students take more courses in the subjects and encouraging greater participation by the private sector.

The programs and solutions proposed at the federal level are still in the early stages. In several states, however, programs are in place and should begin yielding results within the next few years.

With a program similar to a scholarship bill now before Congress, Kentucky has beaten the federal government to the punch: This fall, it will begin making "forgivable" loans to science and mathematics majors who intend to teach at the precollegiate level. According to state officials, Kentucky was the first state to develop such a program, although several other states are not far behind.

Using $610,000 appropriated by the 1982 legislature, the state will make loans of up to $2,500 to 80 students in 1982 and 85 more in 1983. One year of the loan will be cancelled for each year that the person teaches science or mathematics in a Kentucky public school.

If the student decides not to teach, he or she must repay the loan at the current interest rate on treasury notes plus 3 percent, according to education-department officials. This interest rate is higher than that of other available student loans, a factor education officials hope will deter any applicants who are not certain they want to become teachers. Sophomore, junior, and senior undergraduates are eligible for the loans.

Teachers who are certified to teach in another field may also apply for the special loan if they want to return to school and become certified in mathematics or science. The loans will be granted on the basis of grade-point average, college examination scores, financial need, and other factors.

The state will give priority to Kentucky residents and graduates of local high schools this year; next year, those who participated during the first year will be given priority.

Alabama, too, is about to begin distributing special scholarship funds to students who intend to become science and mathematics teachers. The winners will begin their studies this fall at various education schools in the state.

Passed by the 1982 legislature, the $50,000-per-year program will provide full, one-year scholarships in Alabama education schools to residents of the state who are willing to spend a year teaching mathematics or science in an Alabama high school. (The legislature, which convened in a special session last week, may triple the appropriation and extend the recipients' obligation to two years of teaching.)

The money will provide 12 to 15 competitive grants that are open to any state resident who can meet the admission standards for Alabama education schools.

The grants will provide full tuition, room and board, and books at any state education school. Those who do not fulfill their subsequent teaching obligation will be required to repay the scholarship with 12 percent interest. This year's winners--who were chosen by the state board of education on the basis of admissions-test scores, grades, an essay, and a personal interview--were scheduled to be announced last week.

According to William C. Berryman, who is supervising the program for the state department of education, the winners, who will begin their studies this fall, include high-school seniors, college students, certified teachers in other subject areas, and citizens working in other professions.

Although he expected only 75 applications for the scholarships, Mr. Berryman said, he received 250, many from people with impressive credentials. "We were amazed with the quality of the applicants-- bright, articulate people with act scores of 30 [out of a possible 35] and straight A's."

In Mississippi, more requirements passed this summer by the state college board will have long-range benefits, but school officials anticipate difficulty in finding the teachers--and funds--to meet the new admissions standards for the eight state colleges and universities.

Under the new requirements, students seeking admission to the schools must have three years of mathematics and three years of science. The colleges will begin enforcing the standard in the fall of 1986, which means that any 9th grader who is considering attending a state institution must begin to meet the requirements this fall.

Under the the plan, approved in July by the state College Board, students will be required to take four years of high-school English, three years of mathematics, three years of science, and two-and-a-half years of social science. Currently, a typical school district in Mississippi requires high-school graduates to have four years of English, two years of mathematics, one year of science, and two years of social science.

With the additional mathematics and science courses required for college-bound students, some of the state's school systems will have trouble providing enough teachers, according to Charles Holladay, state superintendent of education.

The impact of the new requirement will vary from district to district. Some of the larger districts--Jackson, for example--already require students to take three years of mathematics and three years of science.

The requirement will pose no particular difficulty for these districts. But in other districts, especially those in rural areas, school officials will be hard-pressed to find the teachers and other resources needed to expand the science and mathematics curriculum.

Other Mississippi officials are working on ways to ease the shortage of teachers. State Senator Jack Gordon, who chairs the Senate education committee, said he will introduce a bill during the 1983 session of the Mississippi legislature that would provide college scholarships for future math and science teachers and require them to teach in the state for about five years.

In addition, Mr. Gordon said, a special senate committee on education is considering a recommendation to the legislature that would reward mathematics and science teachers with extra pay. The concept is being pushed by the Southern Regional Education Board, of which Mississippi's Governor, William Winter, is chairman. Governor Winter supported the College Board's action.

The legislatures in Florida and Georgia during their 1982 sessions considered but did not enact scholarship programs for mathematics and science teachers. In Virginia, the state board of education has recommended to the legislature that it adopt such a program in 1983.

At the federal level, the National Science Foundation's Precollege Commission on Science and Mathematics met for the first time. The commission, headed by William T. Coleman Jr., a former secretary of housing and urban development, is putting the final touches on a "problem definition statement." The draft statement offers an analysis of the situation and notes that "to a large extent public schools reflect rather than determine public perceptions and priorities."

The commission also established four working groups and will now begin to talk to state and local officials, representatives of business and industry, professional associations, and officials from science museums and other informal learning centers. Members will also visit schools to identify both problems and successful programs.

Although the commission's final report is not due until October 1983, its work will probably have an impact sooner, according to several observers. Mr. Coleman, the chairman, is "pushing very hard," one observer said, and the group decided early in its first meeting that no more studies of the problem were necessary. The commission will meet next in October.

In late July, Senator John Glenn, Democrat of Ohio, and Representative David McCurdy, Democrat of Oklahoma, introduced two bills into both houses of Congress to address the problems in two ways.

The first, the Precollege Mathematics and Science Teacher Assistance Act, would amend Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to allow students who intend to teach either mathematics or science at the precollege level to receive direct loans.

For each year of teaching, the loan would be reduced by 25 percent and after four years of teaching would be forgiven entirely. If students did not pursue teaching careers, they would repay the loans at a 7 percent interest rate.

The second bill, the Mathematics and Science Education Act, would offer two tax incentives to businesses. Firms that hired mathematics and science teachers for the summer and paid them more than the teachers' weekly teaching salary would receive a federal tax credit of 50 percent of the amount paid to the teachers.

The bill would also give a tax credit, not to exceed $1,000 per month per person, for employees who taught 10 or more hours per week in a public elementary or secondary school. Employees who taught in the schools would have state teaching certificates or credentials.

Both bills have been endorsed by numerous education organizations.

Vol. 01, Issue 40

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