Educating the K-12 Teacher
Eileen French* teaches science to sixth graders at a Los Angeles County public school. French, who holds a bachelor's degree in art history, is teaching a subject that she purposely dodged at her college prep high school. "We had a choice between [taking electives in] science or literature," French says. "At 15, I had more of an interest in film noir than in physiology." Thanks to a district-sponsored stint at a summer science camp for educators, French now feels fully comfortable teaching science to her middle-school students.
Getting educators excited about and prepared to teach STEM subjects was a topic raised at the "Innovation and America's Future" Forum, as well as a recommendation made by the National Academy for Sciences in their groundbreaking 2005 report, "Rising above the Gathering Storm". At a time when 46 percent of teachers abandon the profession in the first five years, the need to prepare and retain quality STEM educators in our K-12 schools is more pressing than ever.
The NAS report noted that in 2000, 93 percent of fifth- through ninth-graders were taught physical science by an instructor who did not hold a degree or certification in the physical sciences. In 2009, the National Science Foundation (NSF) set out to reverse the trend by launching a grant program to support STEM education. Arizona State University (ASU) received an NSF grant for an effort to produce 200 middle school STEM educators and develop 10 STEM master's level courses rooted in sustainability.
Last week, ASU announced that it was entering the next phase of its teacher preparation program, whose centerpiece is ReSETS, or Reforming Science Education for Teachers and Students. Under ReSETS, five new courses based on the National Science Education Standards will employ technology to help teacher candidates foster an understanding of the physical, life, earth and space sciences among K-8 students. Further, the university is expected to introduce a B.S. degree in math with a secondary education concentration in the fall of 2012.
As noted by the panelists at the "Innovation and America's Future" Forum, some progress is being made to improve the quality of K-12 STEM education. However, the race to elevate STEM competency requires that teacher training be moved to the top of the agenda.
We welcome your thoughts on the current state of our nation's education system. What do you think can be done to support teacher training in STEM subjects?
*Name changed for privacy