A California state effort to help disadvantaged students improve their math and science skills and a teacher-mentoring program in Toledo, Ohio, were recently honored with prominent national awards that recognize government innovation.
The two programs—which competed with more than 1,300 other applicants from federal, state, and local government agencies and school districts from around the country—were given $100,000 each for being among the five winners of the 2001 Innovations in American Government Award.
The Ford Foundation and Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government sponsor the awards. The three other award winners were not school-related.
California’s Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement, or MESA, program sets up special assistance to prepare students, particularly those who may be unlikely to do well in math and science courses, to perform better in those subjects.
Established in 1970, the program serves about 32,000 students in a network of 440 schools, 35 community colleges, and 23 universities.
About 85 percent of graduating high school seniors who participated in MESA go on to college.
The Toledo teacher-mentoring program, which has been around for more than 20 years, provides first-year teachers with veteran teachers as mentors. The mentors, who are hired for three-year terms as evaluators, help rookie teachers acquire skills in such areas as constructing lesson plans, maintaining classroom discipline, and evaluating students.
Evaluation in Toledo
The mentors are responsible for evaluating the novice teachers and reporting their progress to a committee, which determines whether the teachers are skilled enough to continue working in the district. Since the program’s inception in the 39,000-student district, Toledo hasn’t experienced any major labor-management disputes between the teachers’ union and the district, educators there note.
“It’s easy to mentor,” said Dal Lawrence, the program’s founder who is now an education consultant. “The key [to the program] is evaluating a person. When the teachers own the process and have professional standards that lead to responsibility and pride in what they do, that pride creates confidence.”
Applicants for an Innovations in American Government Award must submit two written presentations explaining the structure, goals, and results of their programs. They must also undergo on-site reviews of their operations and then make final presentations to a committee. The program was started in 1985.
A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2002 edition of Education Week as California and Toledo Efforts Win Innovation Awards