NRC Report Addresses Education of Science and Math Teachers The current system for preparation and on-going professional development of K-12 science and math teachers "needs rethinking and improvement, and not just on a small scale," warns a new report by a National Research Council committee. The committee offers recommendations for improvement that encourage partnerships between the K-12 and higher education communities in providing for teachers a seamless spectrum of continuous learning. It calls on colleges and universities - with collaboration between the science departments and the schools of education - to take primary responsibility for the continuing professional development of science and math teachers. In turn, school districts are urged to take responsibility for ensuring high-quality internships for prospective teachers.
While expectations for student achievement are increasing, many teachers do not have adequate content knowledge to effectively teach science or math, the report finds; nor do most undergraduate-level science and math courses model the pedagogical approaches prospective teachers will need in the K-12 classroom. Once in the classroom, it says, beginning teachers are usually expected to be fully qualified, and often do not receive the support needed to improve and refine their content knowledge or their pedagogical skills. The report also asserts that teachers, "quite incontrovertibly, are not accorded the respect and recognition due professionals who hold such responsible positions in our society."
The Committee makes three General Recommendations, as follows:
1. "Teacher education in science, mathematics, and technology be viewed as a continuum of programs and professional experiences that enables individuals to move seamlessly from college preparation for teaching to careers in teaching these subject areas."
2. "Teacher education be viewed as a career-long process that allows teachers of science, mathematics, and technology to acquire and regularly update the content knowledge and pedagogical tools needed to teach in ways that enhance student learning and achievement in these subjects."
3. "Teacher education be structured in ways that allow teachers to grow individually in their profession and to contribute to the further enhancement of both teaching and their disciplines."
The Committee further makes a series of specific recommendations for various sectors involved in teacher education:
FOR GOVERNMENT: Local, state and federal governments should recognize the importance of improving teacher education in science and math, and should support local and regional partnerships for this purpose. They should also encourage teacher recruitment and retention via such incentives as competitive salaries, low-interest student loans, loan forgiveness, and grants and stipends for internships and continuing professional development.
FOR EDUCATION COLLABORATIONS: School districts should work together with two- and four-year colleges and universities to "establish a comprehensive, integrated system of recruiting and advising" prospective science and math teachers.
FOR THE HIGHER EDUCATION COMMUNITY: College and university science, math and engineering departments should examine their introductory courses and "assume greater responsibility" for providing prospective teachers with courses that have appropriate content and model appropriate pedagogical approaches. Universities performing educational research should place priority on research into "ways to improve teacher education, the art of teaching, and learning," and the data should be made available through a national electronic database or library. Colleges and universities should provide continuing guidance to teachers who have completed their teacher education programs, and should "assume primary responsibility for providing professional development opportunities" for science and math teachers.
FOR THE K-12 COMMUNITY: School districts should "assume primary responsibility for providing high-quality practicum experiences and internships" for prospective science and math teachers, including developing and overseeing field experiences and student teaching. School districts should also cooperate with the higher education community to provide professional development opportunities.
FOR PROFESSIONAL AND DISCIPLINARY ORGANIZATIONS: Higher education organizations should encourage programs providing guidance, support and job opportunities for teachers. Professional societies should become more active partners in improving teacher education, and "work together to align their policies" on science and math teacher education.
"The committee acknowledges that achieving this vision will not be straightforward, easily accomplished, or inexpensive," the report states. "It will require fundamental rethinking and restructuring of the relationships between the K-12 and higher education communities...including financial relationships. It will also require fundamental revamping of teaching as a profession."
Some of the NRC report's recommendations echo a statement and letter issued by AIP and several of its Member Societies last December. They encourage faculty and department chairs in university physical science and engineering departments to "take an active role in improving the pre-service training of K-12 physics/science teachers" and build cooperative relationships with those involved in teaching K-12 students. The statement was endorsed by the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Astronomical Society, the Acoustical Society of America, the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, and the American Vacuum Society, and can be found on the AIP Home Page at http://www.aip.or g/education/futeach.htm
The 160-page report, "Educating Teachers of Science, Mathematics, and Technology: New Practices for the New Millennium," was prepared by the NRC Center for Education's Committee on Science and Mathematics Teacher Preparation. It is not available for sale yet, but a prepublication copy can be viewed at http:/ /www.nap.edu/books/0309070333/html/index.html