The images are enough to get the hearts and the minds of any educator stirring. President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speak of “honoring science,” of “recruiting, retaining and rewarding an army of new teachers,” and of “raising expectations” when it comes to our children’s academic pursuits. It is not just talk either. In the recently enacted economic-stimulus bill the government has set aside $100 billion in new education funding. The Obama administration has made it clear that education is a top priority, even going so far as to require every state to take steps to improve teacher effectiveness.
With dollars like that being promised — and affirmation of the value of teachers coming from the very highest levels — we at the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation feel compelled to come forward and say – Thank you. Thank you for acknowledging that teachers do matter.
Now come the big questions. The new funding is designed to restore cuts and reward schools for innovation and reform. But what exactly does this mean? What constitutes reform? What will give the American people the greatest return on their investment?
We say invest in teachers and do it early in their careers.
The current national trend is that nearly half of all teachers leave the profession within the first five years. By contrast, KSTF has averaged an 86% retention rate since we first introduced our Teaching Fellowships in 2002. KSTF awards 5 year fellowships to the nation’s best and brightest teaching graduates – specifically those pursuing math and science high school teaching careers. We provide these beginning teachers with the structured mentoring, the professional development, and the sense of community that they need to improve their teaching strategies. Most importantly, we insist on treating teachers as professionals worthy of respect – the same respect our society affords to other highly-trained experts in their fields.
With so many teachers nationwide leaving the profession, consider the huge financial cost to schools and districts to constantly hire and re-hire teachers. Consider the cost to students to always have a teacher who is just learning the craft or teaching outside of their subject area. Then, imagine if a beginning teacher had the time during the day to work on plans, to observe senior teachers, to meet with trained mentors and engage in professional development? Imagine what would happen if this professional development was relevant to the subject and the students they were teaching? It’s what we make happen for over 100 KSTF Teaching Fellows in 25 states and it works.
Exceptional teacher training and support pay off in enriched educational experiences for students. A KSTF teacher in Michigan guided her students to winning 1st place honors in a national engineering competition with the creation of a device to assist the handicapped in typing. Another teacher in Virginia achieved a 92% pass rate in the state’s standardized chemistry test – a rate nearly 20 points higher than that of her peers. One of the KSTF Fellows in California will be the sole teacher to take part in a history-making research expedition to the South Pole. The lessons he learns in that expedition will be converted into a polar science curriculum to be used in classrooms across the nation.
Teaching is complex. At a minimum, a teacher must understand the content and the nature of the discipline she is teaching, how students learn, how to know what students know, how to design instruction and evaluate its effectiveness, how to motivate students, how to work with parents and the community, and how to stay current on their discipline, teaching, learning, instruction and technology tools.
This is an urgent time for education. The National Center for Education Statistics predicts that in the next eight years, 2.8 million teachers must join the existing 3.2 million teachers because of retirements, higher enrollment and teacher turnover. While there may be some quick fixes that provide temporary relief, changes in education and the roles and responsibilities of teachers require sustained efforts over a long period of time. Let’s help beginning teachers get off to a good start. Let’s invest in teacher education and early-career professional development. We can then develop that “army of new teachers” that our President has referred to in his speeches - an army that has the qualifications and the staying power to effectively educate the next generation.# # # #
Dr. Angelo Collins, is the executive director of the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation. Since 1999, the Foundation has invested in our nation’s teachers to improve the quality of math and science education. Dr. Collins is a science educator who has taught at both the high school and university level and spent decades studying how to best prepare teachers for this complex, intellectually-demanding profession. She directed Stanford's Teacher Assessment Project and led the national committee that produced the only National Science Education Standards.