EDITORIAL: Science and Math Education Ready for Overhaul
Findings in recent studies conducted on national and state levels indicate that more than one-third of high-school graduates aren't ready for college math and English courses when they reach campus, and they have to enroll in remedial English and math classes during their freshman year. Also, a U.S. Department of Education commission reports that only one half of high-school graduates who enroll in a four-year degree program at college actually get a degree, mainly due to inadequate preparation in high school. The figures reinforce widespread concern about how to ensure that students are prepared for college. The National Commission on the High School Senior Year calls for increased alignment between all levels of education and higher achievement through college-preparatory study-stronger links between high school curriculum and what students are expected to know in college.
However, determining what students are expected to know before entering college is only part of the problem. The other part (more importantly) is who is going to teach them.
Studies show serious problems in the workforce of teachers in science, mathematics, engineering and technology. According to Judith Ramaley, assistant director for National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Education and Human Resources, in grades 7-12, approximately 33% of mathematics teachers and 20% of science teachers don't have either a major or minor in their teaching field, yet these "underqualified" teachers teach more than 26% percent of mathematics students and 16% of science students. Pending retirements of university faculty who prepare teachers add to the problem-more than half of the faculty in universities that grant doctoral degrees in mathematics education will be eligible for retirement in two years and nearly 80% will be eligible in ten years. In addition to the retirements, the challenges of teaching science, mathematics, engineering and technology have changed drastically in the past 40 years says Ramaley.
In what is billed as a massive effort to rebuild teaching leadership in science and mathematics, NSF has launched a $100-million initiative to regenerate leadership in teaching and research in mathematics, science and technology by establishing Centers for Learning and Teaching throughout the country. The centers are aimed at encouraging the development of new faculty and new materials to boost K-12 learning and to prepare graduate students in areas of critical national need to eventually assume leadership roles.
NSF expects the new Centers for Learning and Teaching to encourage undergraduates to go into research and teaching in sciences and mathematics and create a new core of faculty having fresh ideas and talents. Research universities and other institutions will work with local school districts to fashion practical approaches to specific problems and provide models for the rest of the nation. The goal is to reshape the learning of students all over the country.