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Scholarship Program Helps STEM Students and Professionals Become K-12 Teachers
Deborah Allen, Joan Prival, and Linnea Fletcher
The new presidential administration has identified improved teacher quality in science and mathematics as critical for education, and educators are responding to that challenge. A workshop organized and hosted by AAAS and run by National Science Foundation (NSF) program directors instructed nearly 50 participants on how to tap funds in a federal scholarship program intended to encourage undergraduates studying science and math to consider careers in teaching in grade schools.
"The goal is to get larger numbers of teachers in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] that are high-quality," said Shirley Malcom, head of Education and Human Resources at AAAS. Malcom participated in discussions with members of President Barack Obama's transition team and says that they "made it clear that the administration feels that high-quality science and mathematic teachers are critical for education."
Initiated by a 2002 Act of Congress and reauthorized by the 2007 America COMPETES Act, the NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program funds institutions of higher education to provide scholarships, stipends and academic programs for STEM majors preparing to be K-12 teachers and for STEM professionals who want to transition to a K-12 teaching career in high-needs districts. The program's namesake, the late Robert Noyce, inventor of the integrated circuit and considered one of the founders of Silicon Valley, has a foundation in his honor that strives to improve K-12 science and math education.
During the 13 January workshop at AAAS, three NSF program directors gave participants tips for how colleges and universities can submit a successful Noyce proposal. They need a focused and cost-effective project, the program directors said. The proposal needs to cite relevant literature. It should use creative and research-based benchmarks for measuring the success of the program.
Joan Prival, NSF program director for the Noyce program, gave an overview of the program, explaining how STEM students and scientists who teach under the Noyce program get at least $10,000 per year stipend in exchange for teaching in high-risk schools. She also explained how the program has two tracks, each with different requirements.
One track provides scholarships and stipends to STEM undergraduates and STEM professionals preparing to become teachers. And a new track supports STEM professionals enrolled in a master's degree teacher certification programs and supports the development of so-called Master Teachers by providing professional development and salary supplements while they fulfill the teaching requirement. Prival emphasized that the goal is to "recruit people who have not considered teaching before. We want to grow that pool."
But the program does not intend to diminish the pool of STEM undergraduates. "We don't want to decrease STEM majors by converting them into education majors," Prival said. We want them to complete the STEM major and get a teaching certificate, she said.
Recruiting STEM students into a teaching career can be tricky. The perceived threat that the Noyce program might absorb STEM students who would otherwise stay in STEM was cited as one of the most significant challenges faced by many of the workshop's participants. One participant said that she couldn't get faculty at her university to share names of top STEM students so that she could let the students know about the Noyce scholarship program at her school. Others at the workshop said they've had similar experiences.
"Convincing STEM faculty to encourage their STEM students to become teachers is a huge cultural issue," said Linnea Fletcher, an NSF program director at the 13 January workshop. "But what faculty should do is encourage STEM students to do what they are best suited to do, whether it is research or teaching".
"We're transforming the attitude from 'You are a great chemistry student, you shouldn't teach, you should do research,' to 'You are a great chemistry student, you should be a teacher because you'll impact hundreds of lives,'" Prival said.
At the workshop, the program directors distributed an example of a successful proposal to the Noyce scholarship program, and the participants—mainly faculty and grant administrators at universities—studied and critiqued the proposal in groups. One of the proposal's aspects that they discussed was the impact of the projects they support. "You have to show how more people are becoming teachers," Prival said. "And we want these folks to be great teachers when they complete the teacher preparation program." The evaluation section of the grant proposal is where potential grantees can convince reviewers of the strength of their project, Prival said.
Proposals for the Noyce program are due 10 March. The awards go up to $1.5 million for five to six years and are given to institutions that have academic programs that help those already in STEM obtain teaching credentials. Last year was an "exceptional" year due to an infusion of money late in the year, and NSF funded 44 out of the 103 proposals it received, Prival said. She guessed that their total funding this year will be about $14 million.
"As usual, we fund the best proposals and we fund as many as we can," she said.
The 13 January workshop at the AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C. marked the first of three AAAS-organized and NSF-led Noyce workshops for the 2009 grant cycle. One was held 29 January in Atlanta, and the third will be held 5 February in Denver. The workshops are funded by a grant from NSF to AAAS to help recruit quality proposals. Yolanda George, deputy director and program director in AAAS's directorate on Education and Human Resources, heads AAAS's organizing team. The grant will cover two cycles of proposal preparation and conferences for the grantees as well as a AAAS-maintained Web site, which provides information on the grant workshops, impact of Noyce awards on teacher recruitment and retention, and other resources.
4 February 2009