APS News

Major Donation Launches New Math and Science Education Initiative

A donation of $125 million from ExxonMobil Foundation will support a new program designed to help America regain its global leadership position in technological innovation by supporting programs that improve math and science education. The new program, the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), was announced by ExxonMobil and leaders in America’s education community on March 9.

The NMSI was created in response to the National Academies’ 2005 report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which called for improving American students’ performance in math and science in order to ensure US global competitiveness.

In a press release announcing the creation of NMSI, Tom Luce, CEO of the NMSI and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, said, “The National Academies set forth a clear path for the nation to improve math and science education for our country’s youth and it is now time for us to act.”

The NMSI will scale-up two existing programs. One is training and incentive programs for AP and pre-AP courses. [The AP, or Advanced Placement program enables high-school students to take college level material and often to gain college credit for their work]. The other is UTeach, a program at the University of Texas at Austin that has become a national model for science teacher preparation. The UTeach program has doubled the number of UT Austin students receiving math and science teacher certification.

The University of Texas at Austin is a member of the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PTEC), an association of physics departments dedicated to the improvement of K-12 physics and physical science teacher preparation. PTEC grew out of the APS-led PhysTEC program for improving teacher preparation. (see PhysTEC story).

“Programs like UTeach and those offered at other PTEC institutions are demonstrating that universities can produce significant numbers of high school physics teachers, but there must be a commitment by the institution toward this effort. We have seen dramatic increases in the number of high school physics teachers educated at a number of institutions like UT Austin (the home of UTeach) where significant changes to the program have been implemented.” said Ted Hodapp, APS Director of Education.

UTeach now graduates over 70 new math and science teachers each year. Over 80 percent of UTeach graduates are still teaching four years later, compared with only about 60 percent nationally.

Several elements have made the UTeach program successful. UTeach actively recruits students by sending letters to every student in the College of Natural Science. To make the program affordable, UTeach gives students access to scholarships and paid internships, and the first two introductory courses are free. UTeach employs eight full-time “master teachers,” former secondary school teachers who now teach the teacher preparation courses and organize field experiences. From the first semester of the program, UTeach students engage in field experiences, teaching supervised lessons in public schools.

One factor in the program’s success is the significant collaboration among the College of Natural Science, the College of Education, and teachers from local schools, said Michael Marder, a professor of physics and co-director of UTeach. “The most important element in UTeach is the fact that groups of people who used to work separately have come together,” said Marder, who is also the chair of the APS Committee on Education.

UTeach has implemented the practices that PhysTEC and PTEC promote to improve science teacher preparation. “What is special about UTeach is that we’ve taken a lot of good ideas and found ways to put them into practice,” said Marder.

Physics majors at the University of Texas at Austin can enroll in the Physics Teaching Option, in which they earn an undergraduate degree in physics and a Texas secondary teaching certification. UTeach now graduates a few physics majors per year. Students who major in other subjects can receive certification to teach physics, said Marder, but “I really feel that a physics major is the strongest person to teach physics.”

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff