Finding qualified educators to teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses has long been a challenge for school administrators across the country, so much so that some have argued that STEM teachers should be paid more than other educators so that they can be lured away from more lucrative careers in STEM-related professions. These issues are often compounded in high-needs districts that generally struggle to recruit educators to teach in classrooms that can be more challenging than more-affluent settings.
One initiative in Michigan, however, is finding success getting good STEM teachers in front of the students who need them the most.
The six-year-old Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowship program, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, has been working with six Michigan universities to build “rigorous, highly selective, clinically based programs integrating disciplinary content and pedagogical instruction.”
The teaching fellows—hailing from Eastern Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and Western Michigan University— receive $30,000 fellowships to complete 12- to 15-month master’s degree programs and get three years of mentoring. The future teachers promise to spend three years teaching in high-needs Michigan schools. According to the report, fellows are significantly more likely than other Michigan educators to teach black students, low-income kids, students receiving special education services, and kids who are learning English as a second language.
And according to data compiled by the American Institutes for Research’s National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER), students taught by the fellows are learning more than their peers who are not. CALDER’s analysis, which was based on “value-added” measures of students’ test-score gains, found that this was the case in middle school math, middle school science, and high school science. The report does, however, caution that “more robust data are needed” to paint a full picture of the program’s impact.
The report’s finding that the program is showing positive effects in preparing new math and science teachers “to succeed in the high-need districts that need them most” is important. That’s because the black-white and Hispanic-white achievement gaps in STEM courses are some of the nation’s widest and most persistent.
The report also concludes that the fellowship program is scalable, but would work better at some campuses than others:
“One key observation has emerged from Woodrow Wilson’s work with the Teaching Fellowships in Michigan (and indeed across several of its partner states): While the engagement of major research universities in this program brings greater visibility and credibility to the transformation of teacher preparation, these larger, better-known institutions are typically more challenging to work with. They are less flexible, with many more layers of administration and approval required, and they tend to disperse their attention among a wider range of priorities. By contrast, less prominent campuses—which have more at stake in making themselves more visible by virtue of the program, rather than the other way around—typically prove more responsive, and their administrative infrastructure is often simpler. More important, they generally have a much greater awareness of their own need to strengthen their teacher preparation and create momentum for change.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.