State Action on "STEM" Teaching: A Blueprint
Two organizations that have taken an interest in improving teacher education—the National Council on Teacher Quality and the National Math & Science Initiative—have released a series of recommendations on that topic. It’s called “Tackling the STEM Crisis: Five Steps Your State Can Take to Improve the Quality and Quantity of Its K-12 Math and Science Teachers.” It’s not really limited to five categories, though.
While many of the ideas aren’t new, the authors aptly lay out several of the (often peculiar and counterintuitive) facts about how the United States trains its teachers and assigns them to classrooms, and suggest alternatives. Some of the strategies are already being tested by individual states, and the document, in a series of footnotes, cites those efforts.
A few of the document’s recommendations for states:
—Require aspiring teachers to pass basic-skills tests to get into education schools, or, if the state already does this, consider raising the passing requirements. In some states, applicants can be accepted after getting only 40 percent of the questions right, the authors say.
—Adopt a “3/1” set of course requirements for elementary math teachers. The three math courses shouldn’t be in any math course, but rather in areas specific to teaching, in topics such as algebra, geometry, and foundational math. The “1” in the 3/1 is a methods course for teaching math. Candidates should also be allowed to test out of math-content classes, if they have a strong background in the material, according to the authors.
—Create model science-course requirements for elementary science teachers. Most states have “scattershot” requirements for these teachers now, the document says, leaving it up to future teachers to choose a focus in their coursework. The NMSI/NCTQ document says elementary teachers should be forced to take relevant coursework across all primary science fields, meaning biology, chemistry, and physics.
—Put some “teeth” into elementary licensing tests, requiring content-specific knowledge, rather than generalist knowledge. See Massachusetts as an example of a state already moving in this direction.
—At the middle school level, states should close loopholes that allow math and science teacher-candidates to begin work with a K-8 generalist license. All future middle school teachers, the document says, whether teaching in grades K-8, 6-8, or 7-9, need to earn a middle school license or subject-area license for grades 7-12, it states.
—In hiring/recruitment, many states and school districts offer good pensions and health retirement plans for teachers who enter at the age of 50 and are willing to work 10 years. States need to aggressively tout these benefits in recruiting teachers, the authors argue.
—State superintendents in many states have the authority to issue "licensing waivers" for people wishing to enter the profession. They should do this, particularly to lure skilled part-timers into the classroom to teach courses in calculus, chemistry, and other subjects.
NMSI has trying to help states forge new strategies for bringing more, and better-qualified STEM teachers into the system, by promoting the national replication of the “UTeach” model at the University of Texas. I’ve offered just a few of this document's recommendations. After you’ve had a look, give me your thoughts. How feasible are these suggestions, and how far are states and districts from implementing them on a large scale?
Photo by Michael P. Farrell for Digital Directions