Md. Plans To Boost Math, Science Learning

August 07, 2009|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,childs.walker@baltsun.com

All Maryland high school graduates would be prepared for college-level math and science courses, and the state's universities would triple their production of teachers in those fields, under a five-year, $72 million plan unveiled Thursday by a state task force appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The plan also calls for a 40 percent increase in the number of science, technology, engineering and math graduates produced by state universities and for a sweeping effort to convert research and development into job-producing industry.

"Our goal should be to make Maryland no less than the Silicon Valley of the 21st century," said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the state university system and co-chairman of the task force.

O'Malley convened the panel last year in hopes of receiving a plan for keeping Maryland's work force competitive in a global economy that prizes knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math. Statistics show that U.S. students are falling behind in those disciplines, known in the education world as STEM.

"STEM education is the foundation of our ability to be a prosperous nation going forward," the governor said, echoing a sentiment often expressed by President Barack Obama.

According to the task force report, only about one-third of Maryland's 2008 high school graduates took the minimal math and science courses needed to enroll in college-level STEM courses. But one of the plan's earliest goals is for two-thirds of the state's 2011 graduates to meet those minimum standards.

"I think it's doable," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who is already leading a commission to design and implement the higher-level math and science courses. The report recommends, for example, that all Maryland graduates take four years of math and complete a minimum of Algebra II.

The report recommends new university programs to recruit and certify STEM teachers, the development of economic incentives for those teachers and administrative support programs to help keep them in their jobs. In addition to tripling production of STEM teachers, the task force hopes to improve five-year job retention rates from 50 percent to 75 percent.

The report also recommends a summer fellowship program for STEM teachers, a task force to update standards for preparing STEM teachers and the certification of math and science specialists at lower grade levels.

Grasmick said the last piece is important because many students, especially females and minorities, become discouraged with math and science as early as elementary school.

To illustrate the importance of producing STEM graduates, O'Malley described a recent meeting with leaders of the state's military installations. "They're all hiring," he said. "And they cannot find enough people with skills in science, technology, engineering and math. If you learn it, you can earn it."

On the economic development side of the report, Kirwan emphasized that Maryland leads the nation in per capita research and development but falls to the middle of the pack in converting research into business. The report recommends the creation of six centers at state universities devoted to translating research into entrepreneurship. Kirwan said the effort could result in 350 new businesses over the next 10 years.

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