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At Western Michigan University, Susan Stapleton (right) and colleagues require science teacher trainees to do a 10-week research project. The experience convinced Lauren Miller (left) that research is fun—enthusiasm she’ll share with future students.
Heightened teacher turnover does not serve students, says Francis Eberle, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. “It generally takes several years for a person to get good at teaching. So students who keep getting new teachers are really disadvantaged.”
The Noyce Scholarship Program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) takes a different approach. NSF provides funds for scholarships, stipends, and teacher training at colleges and universities that prepare undergraduate STEM majors and STEM professionals to teach. In exchange for each year of NSF support, Noyce recipients commit to teach two years (and receive a $10,000 salary supplement for each year) in a high-need school—one with high poverty, high teacher turnover, or many teachers teaching outside their field. As of fall 2010, Noyce had produced 4,148 new K–12 science or math teachers.
Noyce scholars have all majored in a STEM discipline and taken upper-level science courses, including laboratory courses, and many have conducted independent research. This gives them “the confidence to teach, the excitement, and the passion for the discipline that you might not find in a teacher who’s taken just one or two courses” in their subject, says NSF’s Joan Prival, who administers the Noyce program.
A University of Minnesota team surveyed 555 Noyce scholarship recipients from 2002 to 2006 and found that their GPAs were high and the proportion of Noyce scholars who were minorities was higher (33 percent) than the proportion of minorities working as STEM teachers nationwide (up to 14 percent). And 22 percent of Noyce scholars take on a leadership role in their first few years at a school, serving as a department chair, for example, or sitting on a committee that develops a new curriculum.
“Programs like Noyce have done a tremendous job in helping raise the level of the teaching profession in the eyes of undergraduates,” says John Keller, a planetary scientist and director of the Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
Other preservice initiatives reach out to students with proven science or mathematics chops and train them to teach. Prospective master’s degree students at the HHMI-funded Center for Science and Mathematics Education (CESAME) at Stony Brook University in New York need a bachelor’s degree in science with a B+ average. Quite a few are health professionals or scientists—including, in recent years, four dentists, a medical doctor, and a research scientist.
“Right at the beginning, if you attract talent, it makes a lot of the problems go away,” says David Bynum, CESAME’s director. “The best districts lap up our graduates. That to me is a very powerful indicator of success,” he says. And almost a third of CESAME’s graduates teach in high-need districts.
Some programs focus on attracting that talent young. UTeach, launched in 1997 at the University of Texas at Austin, offers freshman science majors their first two education courses for free—a significant recruitment tool in this age of rising tuitions. Students also save thousands of dollars by completing their science and education training in four years with a bachelor’s degree that qualifies them for certification to teach secondary school science or math in Texas, rather than the usual five or more years to get a bachelor’s in science and a master’s in teaching. UTeach has graduated 675 teachers, and 82 percent of its graduate hires are still teaching after five years, compared with about 50 percent of all teachers nationally. A nonprofit group called the National Math and Science Initiative is replicating UTeach at 28 universities in 13 states. Altogether about 4,700 more teachers-in-training are enrolled at these sites, according to UTeach. Both the National Research Council and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, or PCAST, have recommended further expansion.
Photos: Miller: Peter Baker; Stapleton: Peter Baker