National Math and Science Initiative
It’s no wonder school districts pay a premium for secondary math and science teachers: There just aren’t enough to go around.
“Finding qualified and certified teachers is difficult in areas like math and science,” says Tim Clark, spokesman for a Texas district. “It’s simple economics.”
For those who are concerned about U.S. students’ lagging performance in math and science, the dearth of qualified teachers in these subjects is a major problem. One possible solution is to find and then replicate promising teacher development projects, such as the 13-year-old University of Texas UTeach program.
A Shorter, Cheaper Path to Certification
UTeach is a collaboration involving the university’s Natural Sciences, Education, Engineering, and Liberal Arts colleges and the Austin Independent School District. The program, and others it has spawned around the country, recruit science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students to complete their degrees while simultaneously earning a teaching certificate--without adding time or costs. UTeach is especially attractive to potential teachers because it offers financial incentives, such as tuition stipends or paid internships with educational nonprofit organizations.
The program is successful, advocates say, because it has a strong focus on developing deep content knowledge among future teachers while introducing them to research-based teaching strategies. Participants benefit from early and intensive field teaching experience, plus personal attention and guidance from experienced “master teachers” and others.
UTeach statistics indicate that 90 percent of graduates go on to teach immediately. Eighty-five percent of graduates who began teaching in 2005 are still in schools five years later, compared with about 65 percent of all U.S. teachers who entered the profession that year. About 45 percent of UTeach graduates teach in underserved schools.
Programs at 22 Universities
Recently, organizers have been trying to clone the success of the program via the UTeach Institute. Working in conjunction with the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), the Institute has helped launch similar programs at 21 other universities; the goal is to double this number by 2015. Programs added since the UTeach Institute’s inception four years ago include Geaux Teach at Louisiana State University, UKanTeach at University of Kansas, and VolsTeach at University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
“The UTeach classes are definitely very hands-on,” says Najia Sabir, a student at the University of California at Irvine. “The master teachers know the logistics of teaching us how to teach others.”
“I’ve seen a lot of students not enjoy math and science when someone is teaching at you, not with you or for you,” says Angela Snow, a TUTeach student at Temple University. “We try to engage so the students have fun and see what math and science are all about.”
An Investment in the Country’s Future
Corporate involvement is critical to fueling the UTeach program’s expansion, organizers say. Supporters so far include ExxonMobil, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Texas Instruments Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Lockheed Martin Corporation, IBM and Perot Systems. These organizations see their financial backing as an investment in the country’s future as well as their own.
"Through [the] UTeach program, we are recruiting, inspiring and preparing thousands of college students majoring in STEM subjects to become the next generation of highly qualified, content-knowledge-driven teachers for our young people,” says Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil.
“This will have a dramatic impact on the quality of math and science education of hundreds of thousands of students for generations to come. An investment in the UTeach program by ExxonMobil and other corporations is an investment in our nation’s future," Tillerson adds.
A Model for Reform of Teacher Education
The funding partners give participating universities assistance over five years to implement UTeach, after which the program is self-sustaining. Within a few years, UTeach will produce more than 700 new math and science teachers a year, and the program’s subsequent growth is poised to make an even larger dent in the national shortage of qualified teachers.
UTeach is already recognized as a model for reforming how we prepare math and science teachers by several prominent organizations, including the National Research Council, U.S. Department of Education and the national academies of science and engineering.
The program has also captured the attention of President Obama, who earlier this year challenged states to enhance teacher preparation and training. Attracting new and qualified math and science teachers, the President said, will “better engage students and reinvigorate these subjects in our schools.” He specifically mentioned UTeach as a model approach to training the next generation of teachers.
Dr. Sherry Southerland, co-director of FSUTeach at Florida State University, says all citizens need to have a fundamental understanding of and capability with math and science. “That can only happen if they are in the hands of capable teachers,” says Southerland.