***Coming This November: US Black Engineer magazine's 2008 Diversity edition will spotlight the careers of some of the most prominent blacks in Information Technology in Q&A profiles.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Let’s Blame the Teachers. Not.

As you gather supplies for the new school year, give some thought to recent, but normal news. The Program for International Student Assessments reports that the US lags far behind other developed nations in math and science education.

Big whoop, you say. Well its not just foreigners that decry our kids’ miseducation. Scores from the US National Assessment of Education Progress show that while the achievement gap is narrowing and elementary students are making some gains in math in lower grade levels, only about a third of our eighth-grade students are at or above proficiency in math. Less than a quarter of our high school seniors are at or above proficiency in math.

If an estimated 75 percent of middle-school students are taught math and science by teachers without degrees or certification in the subjects, why not blame teachers for American students falling behind their international peers? What you teach is what you get, right?

But many who care about advancing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education — rather than playing the blame game— prefer to improve teachers’ skill sets.

“Teachers cannot be expected to teach what they do not know themselves,” said Rep. George Miller, D-CA at a discussion of the findings of the National Math Panel’s report on how US children are learning and being taught math. The congressman, who is chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, also said:

“We are not giving our teachers the training and support needed to provide effective math instruction to students. We have to provide teachers with opportunities to learn math while they are still in school and to participate in professional development programs throughout their careers.”.

Ideas for improving pre-service teacher training, in-service professional development, training, and ongoing support for teachers are being advanced in federal circles. One of the reasons Congress enacted the America COMPETES Act in 2007. The Act authorizes programs like the Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate, which would expand low-income students' access to AP/IB coursework by training more high school teachers to lead AP/IB courses in math, science, and critical foreign languages in high-need schools.

Educating the Educators

Yet, it may take innovative programs like one at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, to get the job done.

Goddard’s NASA Explorer School gives educators an opportunity to see the space agency’s work first-hand and take new skills and perspectives back to their classrooms. Nineteen teachers from around the country are the first group to be enrolled. Included in the program is a weeklong workshop program that informs educators about NASA programs. Educators get to interact with NASA scientists and engineers about work, including the Hubble Servicing Mission, Lunar Reconnaissance Mission and studies of lunar geology.

The goal of the hands-on program is to have participants return to their classrooms with additional science knowledge. And that’s a great idea. We just need a million more--MV Greene