As U.S. science test scores stagnate, a new report by AAAS shows how high-quality science and mathematics teachers can be recruited and trained to help reverse this trend.
The report describes the innovative strategies used by the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program, which trains science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) undergraduate majors and STEM professionals to become K-12 teachers. The program has found new ways to recruit, prepare, and support these new teachers by offering them a chance to work in after-school programs, mentoring them with the help of local educators, and providing funding for research projects of their own.
Now a decade old, the program’s successes are being scrutinized as part of a national conversation on how to improve science education.
Improvements are urgently needed, education experts say. Results from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress () science test, which were released on 10 May, show that only a third of eighth-graders who took the test scored at or above the proficient level for their grade.
The NAEP scores did edge up slightly from a similar 2009 assessment, but were still “disappointing,” said Shirley Malcom, head of AAAS Education and Human Resources Programs. “They have people asking, ‘What is it likely to take to move from these lackluster numbers?’”
A push to adopt common science standards may be part of the solution, educators say. On 11 May, 26 states joined the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and AAAS in releasing new draft standards for K-12 students that emphasize deeper knowledge of scientific concepts.
New standards could bring a better science curriculum into the nation’s schools, Malcom said, but standards alone won’t be sufficient to improve STEM learning. “One of the things that it’s likely to take,” Malcom concluded, “is a terrific teacher for every student.”
That’s what makes the Noyce Scholarship Program so important. Finding and developing these teachers is the goal of the NSF program. After graduation, its scholarship recipients must teach for two or more years in a high-need school district where a majority of the students come from families living below the poverty line, or where significant numbers of teachers are teaching outside of their subject area.
The AAAS Noyce report was released on 24 May at the program’s seventh-annual conference, which brought more than 600 program participants from over 225 colleges and universities to Washington, D.C. The current Noyce program includes 350 projects in 45 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These projects are projected to produce 10,000 science and mathematics teachers.
“There has been a really strong commitment by the STEM and education faculty at these universities to prepare these teachers,” said Joan Prival, the program’s lead director at NSF. “It has elevated the stature of teaching as a career and made it a viable career for people with strong science and mathematics backgrounds.”
As in years past, the conference will highlight the “cutting-edge teacher education practices and strategies” that the colleges and universities and school district partners use to recruit and prepare STEM students and professionals, facilitate their successful entry into schools, and mentor them in their new classrooms, said Yolanda George, deputy director of AAAS’s Education programs.
Case studies collected in the new report reveal how creative, and locally adaptable the program has been. Georgia’s Kennesaw State University, for instance, used everything from billboards along the highway to face-to-face campus meetings to encourage physics and chemistry majors to consider teaching careers. Once selected, the Noyce Scholars receive intensive mentoring and regular support along the way to the classroom.
“Many people think that teachers are born, not trained, but our experience has been that both factors are at play,” said Gregory Rushton, an assistant professor of chemistry at the university who heads up the Noyce program on campus. “By recruiting students and then training and mentoring, we are helping these young people discover their true calling.”
At California State University in San Bernardino, Noyce Scholars are mentored by classroom teachers from the San Bernardino County school district, handpicked for each scholar to match his or her teaching style and personality. The mentorship program works in both directions: Classroom teachers also get training in instruction and student discipline from the Noyce program, said Carol Cronk, mathematics coordinator in the office of the San Bernardino Country Superintendent of Schools. “The teachers who are serving as mentors are really thirsty for help.”
Read the full Noyce Conferences report.
Learn more about the NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program.
View the complete program for the 2012 Noyce Conference.