The University of Florida is making a bold move to make sure the state has enough qualified science and math teachers to educate the next generation

UF Plans Bold Move to Improve Math and Science Education

November 14, 2007

GAINESVILLE, Fla.--In the world’s most technologically advanced country, math and science teachers are in shockingly short supply. Now the University of Florida is making a bold move to make sure the state has enough qualified science and math teachers to educate the next generation.

Equipped with a grant of up to $2.4 million from the National Math and Science Initiative and an additional $1 million endowment from the Helios Education Foundation, two UF colleges are launching a new program to recruit science and math students to the teaching profession, molding them into top performers in both the laboratory and the classroom.

Known as FloridaTeach, the program will combine the efforts of UF’s College of Education and its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to retool the university’s programs for preparing math and science educators.

“We think that the best incentive to attract new teachers is to create a place where they’re celebrated and rewarded,” said Professor Tom Dana, director of the School of Teaching and Learning in UF’s College of Education and principal investigator on the project.

The United States has long been a world leader in technological innovation, but the numbers of new college graduates in math and sciences are too low to meet the demands of the marketplace – and, some say, the needs of a highly technological society. As a result, the flow of math and science majors into the classroom has slowed to a trickle.

Shortages of certified science teachers have been reported in all 50 states – and they are setting off alarm bells in the business community. With well-prepared teachers in short supply, the theory goes, the nationwide shortage of qualified high-tech workers can only get worse.

“The shortage of mathematics and science teachers has been identified as a critical state workforce need,” said Alan Dorsey, chair of UF’s Department of Physics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and co-principal investigator on the project. “It has also received national attention; for instance, this is a critical part of the "American Competitiveness Initiative" President Bush mentioned in his 2006 State of the Union address.”

FloridaTeach proposes to correct that shortage with an innovative program designed to recruit science-minded students into the teaching profession, give them a strong background in both science and the art of teaching, and induct them into the community of educators.

When the program begins in fall 2008, FloridaTeach administrators will recruit freshman science majors into the program, offering scholarships and other incentives to attract them. From their first semester in the program, students will have the chance to teach what they’ve learned in the classroom, and will be coached by experienced middle school and high school teachers.

Perhaps more importantly, they’ll be treated as researchers and educators in their own right as soon as they begin the program.

“It will be clear to them, and to everyone else, that there is something special about this program,” Dana said. “We plan to create a contiguous space, with labs and classrooms, that is set aside for them.”

The program is modeled University of Texas at Austin’s successful UTeach program. Begun 10 years ago, the program graduates between 60 and 80 new teachers every year, and has contributed hundreds of math and science teachers to the Lone Star State’s once-dwindling supply. Because UTeach graduates have a higher retention rate than most new teachers, their effect on the overall teacher supply is magnified.

The successes of UTeach have led to a drive to replicate the program nationwide. The National Math and Science Institute (or NMSI) – a nonprofit education advocacy group created by a $125 million gift from the ExxonMobil Corporation -- is awarding grants to 12 universities to set up similar programs.

The Helios Education Foundation is a non-profit organization created in 2004 to provide young people with opportunities for post-secondary education.

“The Helios Education Foundation congratulates the University of Florida for being designated as one of the universities that will implement the UTeach program in math and science education,” said the foundation’s president, Paul Luna. “We’re also pleased to provide a commitment of just over $1 million toward this initiative, and we support the university’s efforts to build programs that will improve teacher quality and retention. We look forward to a long-term, successful partnership with the University of Florida.”

UF’s leaders cited the grants as a good example of the academic and non-profit spheres working together to solve a critical social problem.

“These grants from NMSI and Helios will help University of Florida educators head off a scientific ‘brain drain’ by putting bright scientific minds into teaching positions in public school classrooms,” said UF Provost Janie Fouke. “It’s a great way for the academic world to serve the public and help our nation’s economy.”

FloridaTeach will also offer a science education minor in collaboration with UF’s new, campuswide Science for Life program, accommodating undergraduate students who change majors or decide on teaching at any point during their studies.

Florida State University has also been awarded an NMSI grant, and will be setting up its own program founded on the UTeach model.

Dana said the UF’s FloridaTeach program will rival UTeach in size and number of graduates. The combined efforts of UF and FSU, he said, should be able to make significant headway toward eliminating the state’s shortage of qualified math and science teachers.

The grant creating FloridaTeach was officially announced in a press conference Nov. 14 at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Speakers at the event included Chancellor Mark Rosenberg of the Florida Board of Governors, FSU President T.K. Wetherell and UF Provost Janie Fouke.

Credits

Writers

Tim Lockette, (352) 392-0726 x274, lockette@coe.ufl.edu

Sources

Tom Dana, (352)392-9191 ext. 200, tdana@coe.ufl.edu
Alan Dorsey, (352) 392-4031, Dorsey@phys.ufl.edu

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