National Math and Science Initiative Names UH as Potential Recipient of $2.4 Million Grant to Replicate UTeach
Painting a target on the math and science teacher shortage, the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) has invited the University of Houston to take aim at winning up to $2.4 million to foster the next generation of teachers in these areas.
NMSI, based in Dallas, wants 10 universities to replicate UTeach, an effective science and mathematics teacher-training program established at The University of Texas at Austin. UH is among 29 higher-education institutions that made the cut from 52 higher-learning establishments across the country vying for the opportunity to receive NMSI funding over a five-year period to establish their own successful math and science teacher-training programs.
UH already has a head start with its teachHOUSTON teacher-preparation program that is modeled after the successful UTeach format and is the pilot program for future replications outside the UT system. To help urban schools attract and retain qualified personnel by immersing aspiring math and science educators in public school classrooms early in their college careers, teachHOUSTON began this spring with 14 students.
With teachHOUSTON, students begin in their freshman year, taking 20 hours of education courses during the next four years to graduate not only with a degree in a math or science discipline, but also with a teaching certificate. All-too-often, students wait until they become upperclassmen before deciding to earn a teaching certificate and typically have difficulty fitting the 18 required education hours into their schedules, so some potential teachers graduate without certification. The teachHOUSTON program is trying to break this trend.
“Their exposure to a school setting from the outset is important to the initiative’s success and sets it apart from other teacher certification programs,” said Jeff Morgan, chair of the department of mathematics in UH’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM). “Getting the field-based experience early and often is really key to this program. We don’t want them to get out there and find out they’re really not where they want to be.”
At UH, the College of Education and NSM are collaborating in teachHOUSTON, together with the Spring Branch and Fort Bend independent school districts. This fall the Houston Independent School District is scheduled to come on board, and other districts have indicated they are interested in becoming partners.
“Few colleges of education and science and math at other universities collaborate as much as those at UH,” said Robert Wimpelberg, dean of the College of Education. “The teachHOUSTON program is a natural extension of the things we already do so well together.”
Intensive mentoring is another program feature. The would-be teachers receive mentoring from the beginning – at the university from a master teacher and in the school districts from an assigned mentor teacher. They will continue to be mentored after they graduate, Morgan said.
“From the first semester, a student works with mentors in the district and teaches a couple of lesson plans,” he said. “People who want to teach want to teach now. Their passion starts to wane if they have to wait four years.”
Susan Williams, an associate professor holding joint appointments in UH’s education and NSM colleges, is the first master teacher. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics and a doctorate in education in curriculum and instruction, with a specialization in mathematics education. After 10 years teaching math in middle and high school, she joined UH 15 years ago.
“Williams represents the type of mentor we believe will help prepare highly qualified educators,” Morgan said. “We really want to turn out the best teachers possible, not just ones who are certified.”
Williams is tasked with recruiting freshmen and sophomores into the program and taught the introductory “Teaching Mathematics and Science” course this spring. Next fall, they’ll take another one-hour education course, with an A or B in either course earning a student reimbursement from the university for the course.
“These introductory classes let students try out teaching to come see if they like it,” Williams said. “Where else can you try out a career for free?”
Additionally, Williams assigned each student an elementary school mentor in one of the participating school districts, where the students completed five assignments during the spring semester in that teacher’s classroom. Next fall, students will be assigned a mentor in a middle school and one in high school the following semester. In the fourth semester, students will choose the grade level for their field experience.
“Research shows the more field experience they have, the more prepared students are to work in a classroom,” she said. “School administrators recognize that when students begin preparing to teach as undergraduates, they receive more thorough preparation and are retained at a higher rate than teachers from alternative certification programs.”
Morgan and Williams set a goal of 20 students for the first teachHOUSTON group, targeting those in computer science, geosciences, engineering and bioengineering, as well as those from traditional K-12 science areas. Morgan plans to add students to the program each semester, eventually expanding it to 375 students participating by the fourth year of the program. UTeach has more than 470 participants and has doubled the number of UT-Austin students graduating with math and science teacher certification. Compared to a 60 percent national four-year retention rate, 80 percent of UTeach graduates who became teachers four years ago are still teaching.
Should UH be selected for one of the NMSI grants, they will be provided course materials, operations manuals, consultation and training from The UTeach Institute. The first round of grants will be awarded in October 2007.