STEM Beats - teachers

Lack of Teacher Support Prolongs the Elementary Science Drought

May 10, 2017

On Monday, we explored the troubling state of science education in the nation’s elementary schools. One likely reason for the drought? We argued that elementary teachers are unlikely to spend much time teaching science, because they feel so ill prepared to teach it. 

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress support our suspicions. They show a compelling relationship between the amount of professional development fourth-grade teachers receive in science and the number of hours they spend teaching it.

Fourth-grade teachers who receive more training in science instruction spend more time on science

Fourth-grade teachers who receive training on lab activities spend more time teaching science

Yes, these data do not prove a causal relationship between professional development and instructional time, but they do support a pattern that shouldn’t be surprising: the elementary science drought will probably continue unless teachers get the support they need. 

Tags: science, Next Generation Science Standards, teachers

Could a Shortage of Career and Technical Educators Slow Progress on Career Readiness?

April 12, 2017

A recent headline at caught our attention: “Vo-tech instructor shortage is manufacturing’s biggest test.” The story warned of a rising shortage of career and technical instructors to help prepare a new generation of talent to replace retiring workers at Connecticut manufacturing plants.

Hmm, we wondered, is this a regional blip or a national trend? It didn’t take much digging to unearth similar stories all over the country:

In California, “Supply lags booming demand for career technical teachers.” In Minnesota, “Where are all the career and technical educators?” and “Career and technical education shortage must be addressed with a sense of urgency.” In Michigan, “Shortage of qualified instructors a challenge for school CTE programs.” In North Dakota, “Career, tech ed struggle with teacher shortages.”

National indicators bear out the headlines. In a 2016 U.S. Department of Education listing, many states projected teacher shortages in career and technical (CTE) education, among other subject areas. 

What’s Going On?

Several factors appear to be at play. Schools have been rolling out new, robust CTE programs—and student interest in CTE is growing. CTE is replacing traditional vocational–technical education, which has fallen out of favor. That’s because vo-tech typically did not prepare students for education after high school, which is now essential for most middle and high-skilled jobs. Today, the best CTE programs provide rigorous academics, applied learning experiences and, in some cases, recognized credentials. CTE also offers pathways to both postsecondary education and attractive careers in high-demand, fast-growing fields such as advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, engineering, environmental services, health informatics, information technology and finance.

The bench of qualified teachers is inadequate to meet this demand. As vo-tech programs declined, many postsecondary institutions eliminated teacher education programs focused on this specialty. To boost the supply of teachers, some states are offering alternative certification or relaxing CTE teacher licensing requirements, which may require specialized skills and even years of industry experience. Teacher salaries, meanwhile, don’t come close to compensating for this level of expertise, but lowering standards risks hurting students.

Looking to the Business Community for Solutions

Licensing changes alone will not be enough to staff up CTE programs. Instead, states are looking to new approaches and new collaboration with industry, which benefits from workforce preparation by CTE programs.

There seems to be overwhelming interest nationwide in closer collaboration with the business community. In a 2016 report by Advance CTE and the Council of Chief State School Officers, 98 percent of 47 state CTE directors surveyed said that increasing access to “industry experts”—people with both knowledge and experience in a specific industry and the knowledge, skills and abilities to support students and collaborate with teachers—is a key priority area today in high schools. Moreover, 100 percent said that it will be an increasing priority in the future. This report champions the role of industry in supporting CTE, and suggests that industry experts could serve as part-time or adjunct high school instructors, career advisors or counselors, mentors and career coaches, and advisors for school CTE organizations.

In California, a recent policy brief offers a similar set of solutions to the “severe” shortage of CTE teachers, where 67 percent of high schools with career pathways programs reported that recruiting and retaining instructors with appropriate credentials is challenging or very challenging. “Industry partners are crucial to addressing this shortage,” according to this policy brief. Among other recommended solutions: more funding for CTE teacher preparation, pathways to teaching for employees within industry sectors, pre-service and in-service CTE teacher preparation in industry, and industry mentorship to support new CTE teachers. 

States and corporate organizations up for the challenge will need to tap into their repertoires of evidence--like state Vital Signs reports or local workforce data--to illuminate weak areas and build better strategies for connecting CTE teachers and industry partners with eager students.

Tags: Career Technical Education, teachers

Idaho Uses STEMworks to Fund STEM Professional Development

August 23, 2016

Does your program offer professional development for STEM teachers? Are you ready to help teachers in Idaho? If so, the Idaho STEM Action Center might have a grant for you.

The Idaho STEM Action Center is the latest partner in our efforts to help states identify and expand the nation's best STEM education programs. It will join leading STEM organizations in states like Colorado, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan in using CTEq's rigorous STEMworks review process to find programs that are most likely to make a difference for America's youth.

As states gain more control over their education policies and purse strings, STEMworks helps them make the best decisions for their young people.

Here is the text of the Idaho announcement:

Idaho STEM Action Center announces grants for professional development programs

Change the Equation (CTEq) and the Idaho STEM Action Center are collaborating on an initiative to identify excellent teacher professional development programs in STEM. The STEM Action Center will recommend programs identified through this process for state professional development funds. Programs may apply for up to two years of funding: $75,000 in the first year and $50,000 in the second.

Apply before 3pm Mountain Time on October 4, 2016.

Programs must apply through CTEq’s STEMworks application portal. Reviewers will judge applications against Change the Equation’s rigorous Design Principles for effectiveness as well as additional state-specific criteria to assess programs’ readiness to address needs specific to Idaho.

Programs that meet the Design Principles will appear in CTEq’s nationally-recognized STEMworks honor roll of effective STEM education programs. Businesses leaders, funders, and STEM advocates regularly tap the STEMworks database for high-quality STEM programs most likely to help maximize their impact on STEM education.

Programs that meet both the STEMworks threshold and Idaho’s state-specific requirements will be considered for state funding

Register for an Informational Webinar [link pending] on STEMworks and the Application Process

On September 2 at 2:00 Mountain Time, CTEq and the Idaho STEM Action Center will host a free one-hour webinar to introduce prospective applicants to the application process.

Visit the STEMworks website to read about the individual STEMworks programs included and more about the database itself.

Tags: STEMworks, teachers

New Study: Lower Teacher Pay Linked to Lower Math Skills

July 27, 2016

If we want better teachers, then we need better incentives to teach. That is one big takeaway from a new study of teachers’ skills in 23 developed nations. Here are the study’s findings in a nutshell:

  1. U.S. teachers test lower in math than teachers in 18 of 23 developed countries. In literacy, U.S. teachers performed better than in math, testing below their peers in 9 out of the 23 countries.
  2. U.S. teachers perform worse in math than their college-educated peers in the United States, and they are in the middle of the pack in literacy.
  3. Teachers’ math skills influence their students’ performance.
  4. U.S. teachers get paid much less than their college-educated peers, even when you take their work experience, skills, and gender into account. In fact, U.S. teachers suffered a larger wage penalty than teachers in all 22 other countries.
  5. Opportunities for women to take jobs outside of teaching significantly affect the skills of teachers—particularly female teachers. In other words, teaching can no longer benefit from skilled women who once had few other professional choices.

At a time when the STEM jobs pay high salaries to those with strong math skills, it can be hard to attract more people with strong math skills to the classroom. That problem, in turn, depresses U.S. students’ performance in math. Higher salaries or other incentives might help right the ship. So can programs like UTeach, which encourages STEM majors to pursue teaching.

That said, we should not turn our backs on the millions of committed teachers we already have. Professional development programs like Intel Math can boost teachers' grasp of math, even if they came to the job with wobbly skills.

(Hat tip: Education Week.)

Tags: math, teachers

Linda Rosen: From the Other Side of the Classroom

May 6, 2016

Let me turn the tables on Teacher Appreciation week for a moment to express appreciation to my students who challenged, delighted, inspired and ultimately helped me become a better high school math teacher. I remain humbled by my students who made me realize that I still had much to learn despite my degrees and accumulated experience.

There was my seventh-grader, so advanced that he came to the high school for his math classes. Never mind that he had a deep understanding of mathematics and an instinctive inquisitiveness that put him at the top of class despite the age difference. His parents were getting a divorce that year and, in his anger about the situation, he stopped caring about school, about math, about most everything other than being surly. Nothing had prepared me, a newly-minted teacher, to know how to reach him and help him separate his incredible mathematical talent from his inner turmoil. In time, he regained control over one portion of his life—his mathematical achievement. In the meantime, I witnessed first-hand the profound impact students’ personal lives can have on their learning.

There was the young woman who diligently came in after school on a regular basis for individualized tutoring on her math homework. Though I was unable to help her earn a decent grade in the course, she thanked me during a chance meeting some forty years later for never giving up on her, never making her feel inadequate, always looking for new ways to explain concepts, and never tiring of trying to help her understand.

Then there was my tenth grader, a gentle, hard-of-hearing soul who was adept at lip reading. “Just make certain he can always see your face,” was the extent of the advice school administrators gave me. No mention about where we should seat him so that he could read lips of his classmates around the room. There was nothing in my teacher preparation or professional development courses that I could draw on, and no observer to help me adjust my teaching style to help this earnest young man literally read my lips. To make matters worse, it was a geometry class with blackboards on three walls. There was lots of moving around as students and I pointed to this or that on a blackboard. To this day, I send occasional telepathic apologies to him knowing that I didn’t serve him as well as I would have liked. But he never betrayed frustration or disappointment, just a dogged determination to do the best that he could.

There are many more stories I could tell. But I hope that these three illustrate that those in one of the hardest jobs in the world need support as well as appreciation! 

Tags: teachers