Ideas For Closing Teacher Gap

Um's Kirwan Says Educating The Young Is A 'Moral Responsibility'

April 23, 2009|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,

Every year, Maryland public schools need to hire 500 math, science and technology teachers. But the state's colleges and universities produce only about 175 qualified applicants, which often leads to unqualified teachers staffing math and science classes, particularly in the poorest schools.

William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, says the system has a "moral responsibility" to help close the gap. Kirwan called a symposium in College Park on Wednesday that brought together leading figures in education - including U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan - to generate ideas. Kirwan will require the campus presidents reporting to him to develop plans and target numbers of qualified graduates, and he said he'll hold them accountable.

If schools can't give low-income students solid grounding in so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), Kirwan said, "we're relegating them to permanent poverty status. ... I don't think there's a more important issue."

In Duncan's remarks to the crowd of 300 researchers and school district and university personnel, he said the nation has had a shortage of qualified math and science teachers for three decades - and it's time for that to end. Duncan supports paying qualified teachers more for taking on the toughest assignments and going into hard-to-staff subject areas. He would also like to see a longer school day, week and year.

Many urban districts have had to go abroad to recruit teachers for math and science, as well as special education; Baltimore schools have recruited hundreds of teachers from the Philippines.

Duncan said that many mathematicians and scientists don't want to teach in high school because they don't want to lose the opportunity to do independent research. He said local school districts and universities need to partner to find ways to keep them engaged.

P. Uri Treisman, a math and public affairs professor at the University of Texas at Austin, presented information about UTeach, a nationally recognized program that his university started in collaboration with Austin public schools to produce qualified STEM teachers. The program includes teaching opportunities for math and science majors, paid internships and tuition reimbursement.

Kirwan and State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said they are interested in replicating a version of UTeach in Maryland. "We really have to continue to ramp up," she said.

Taking questions from the audience after his talk, Duncan offered a glimpse into his plans for revamping the federal No Child Left Behind Act. He wants to hold schools to international benchmarks but give them flexibility on figuring out how to get there. Currently, the law lets states create their own assessments, which Duncan said has led to "dummied-down standards" in some places, fooling students into believing they're on track to be successful when they're not.

The symposium was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education and the University System of Maryland Foundation.

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