Recruitment & Retention

Group Launches Push for More Math, Science Teachers

By Sean Cavanagh — November 10, 2008 4 min read
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A major association of colleges and universities is asking its member institutions to commit to producing more mathematics and science teachers and to work more closely together to share information about promising strategies for meeting that goal.

The National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges says that at least 75 of its institutions in more than 30 states have pledged to join the new enterprise, called the Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative, which was expected to be announced formally Nov. 9 at the organization’s annual meeting in Chicago.

The colleges and universities that take part will agree to set specific targets for raising the number of math and science teachers they educate over time, or to report previously established goals.

The number of new math and science educators large public institutions produce each year is often very low—in some cases “in single digits” for specific areas of science, such as physics, said Howard Gobstein, the association’s vice president for research for science policy and the co-director of the venture.

“This is a perfect initiative for our institutions,” Mr. Gobstein said. “We have the largest cohorts of math, science, and engineering graduates” found within the U.S. postsecondary system, he added.

National Priority

Bringing more math and science teachers into K-12 classrooms has been identified as a priority by business leaders and elected officials. The nation will need an estimated 280,000 new math and science teachers by 2015, according to the Business-Higher Education Forum, a research and advocacy organization in Washington.

The National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, headquartered in the nation’s capital, represents 218 public colleges and universities around the country, many of them large research institutions. A major focus of the new undertaking is to make it easier for them to learn more about promising or successful recruitment or training efforts under way on other campuses, through the Internet, and via other means. Association officials are preparing to launch a Web site that will house detailed information on different aspects of universities’ recruitment and retention efforts, Mr. Gobstein said.

The organization has also received funding from the National Science Foundation to study the factors, in terms of institutional changes and university leadership, that lead to producing more math and science educators. The idea is to study those issues in a “scientifically rigorous way,” Mr. Gobstein said.

Other groups have launched endeavors to bolster universities’ output of math and science teachers in recent years. One is being run by the National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit, business-supported organization that has awarded millions in grants to universities around the country to replicate “UTeach,” a teacher-training program at the University of Texas at Austin. It places a heavy emphasis on cooperation between teacher-education and other math- and science-focused programs within the university, as well as on teacher-mentoring, recruitment, and the ability of aspiring teachers to enter the program at several points in an undergraduate career. (“Draft From National Math Panel Covers Broad Scope of Topics,” Dec. 5, 2007.)

The state universities and land-grant colleges’ “imperative” project will help pinpoint the most important features of programs like UTeach, as well as promising ones such as those organized by the California State University system and other institutions, Mr. Gobstein said.

State and federal officials have tried a number of strategies for bringing more people into math and science teaching, such as offering financial incentives and help with student loans, with mixed results. Retaining existing educators in those subjects is vital, many observers say. Richard Ingersoll, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has said that losses of math and science teachers are deeply felt in K-12 systems, because the marketplace produces so few new ones. (“Math Group Tries to Help Young Teachers Stay the Course,” May 7, 2008.)

Chris Roe, the deputy director of the Business-Higher Education Forum, said university leaders have “key leverage” in boosting the population of math and science teachers, because of the support they can direct to previously neglected teacher-education programs on their campuses. Mr. Roe’s organization this year set up a Web site aimed at giving business leaders information about effective K-12 and teacher-education programs they can support financially. Many university officials also crave that kind of information, he said.

For campus administrators, like business leaders, Mr. Roe said, it “doesn’t seem like there are enough mechanisms to find out what’s really working.”

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A version of this article appeared in the November 12, 2008 edition of Education Week as Group Launches Push for More Math, Science Teachers

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