Date: Aug. 16, 2000 Contacts: Vanee Vines, Media Relations Associate Mark Chesnek, Media Relations Assistant (202) 334-2138; e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
K-12 and Postsecondary Educators Must Forge Stronger Ties To Enhance Teacher Education and Professional Development In Science, Mathematics, and Technology
WASHINGTON -- School districts and colleges should join forces to establish a system that offers a rigorous and comprehensive education for both current and prospective teachers of K-12 science, mathematics, and technology, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. Current teacher-preparation and professional-development efforts often are disjointed and inadequate. Yet higher academic standards called for by many national, state, and local initiatives are raising the bar not only for what students should know in these subjects, but also for their teachers' performance.
Partnerships are needed to bring about an integrated system to better educate future elementary- and secondary-school teachers of science, mathematics, and technology, and to provide challenging professional-development opportunities over the course of a teacher's career, the report says. Schoolchildren would benefit from such arrangements because few factors are as important to their education as a teacher who knows and can teach a subject well. Partnerships consisting of school districts, community colleges, and four-year colleges or universities also could foster a greater sense of professionalism among K-12 teachers, ultimately enhancing society's respect for their work.
"Teacher education in these subjects is a complex, career-long process that should stress intellectual and continuous growth," said Herbert Brunkhorst, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report, and chair, department of science, mathematics, and technology education, California State University, San Bernardino. "To that end, the education system must bridge the traditional divide between K-12 and postsecondary educators, and collaborate in a way that mirrors athletic teams -- with players who routinely practice and compete together, all striving toward a common goal."
The committee's emphasis on teamwork comes at a time when many states have begun to impose new penalties on students who fail to meet higher academic standards in core subjects. Increasing numbers of school districts also are having trouble recruiting and retaining qualified teachers of mathematics, science, and technology. Furthermore, international comparisons have shown that the science and mathematics achievement gap between U.S. students and their peers in several other industrialized countries can be traced, in part, to differences in how schoolchildren are taught.
"In today's highly technical world, the improvement of teacher education in these subjects must be a top national priority," said committee co-chair Jim Lewis, chair, department of mathematics and statistics, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "On college campuses in particular, teacher education must be everyone's concern and not solely that of departments or colleges of education."
The report says that school districts could work with colleges or universities in numerous ways. An integrated academic-advising network could be created to encourage more high school and college students to consider careers in science or mathematics education. University-based scientists and mathematicians, who often rely on information technology, could use partnerships as an opportunity to help K-12 teachers master such tools. Similarly, K-12 instructors could work with their counterparts in higher education to improve teaching in college-level courses.
School districts and colleges also could share existing equipment or pool funds to jointly purchase new materials, the committee noted. And partnerships should include representatives from academic societies, scientists from private industry, and scholars from all relevant disciplines.
Colleges and districts that have formed alliances would have specific roles, too. Science, mathematics, and engineering departments at community colleges and four-year universities should make sure that undergraduate instructors present lessons using approaches that K-12 teachers could model. Universities centered on research also should conduct in-depth studies of methods to improve teacher education and teaching itself, the report says.
In addition, the report recommends that colleges and universities take the lead in providing experienced K-12 teachers of science, mathematics, and technology with coordinated professional-development programs. The goal of such programs should be to boost teachers' understanding of the subjects they teach and of recent findings in cognitive science, pedagogy, and related fields. Currently, many school districts' training opportunities are a hodgepodge of courses and activities that have little effect on the quality of mathematics and science instruction.
School districts should take the lead in organizing internships and field experiences for people considering teaching careers, the report adds. Likewise, districts should assume primary responsibility for creating and overseeing high-quality student-teaching and internship programs for teachers new to the field. Both areas are typically handled by colleges or universities.
Partnerships already exist in an increasing number of "professional-development schools," which bring together colleges or universities and K-12 educators to enhance teaching or student learning. But making these approaches to teacher education and professional development commonplace would not be easy or inexpensive, the committee acknowledged. Elementary and secondary teachers would need time and other resources, such as substitute instructors or additional money for tuition, to take advantage of partnerships. And at many universities, tenure and promotion policies place little value on faculty members' contributions to such initiatives.
Federal, state, and local governments should encourage the recruitment and retention of qualified teachers of science, mathematics, and technology through financial incentives such as low-interest student loans and extra pay, the committee said. But each organization in a partnership also should create line items in their own budgets specifically for a shared partnership fund. Moreover, school-district leaders and administrators in higher education could pool money that they now spend to support individual teacher-education programs, making the most of training dollars.
The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.