Grant for Temple to train teachers

The target: Steering math and science majors toward classrooms.

Temple University will receive a $2.4 million grant, one of 12 in the nation, to encourage and prepare more of its math and science majors to teach at the middle and high school level.

The money comes from the recently formed National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), based in Dallas, which has been charged with funding the replication of successful programs to improve math and science education in the United States.

The effort follows a 2005 national report that estimated that in 1999 and 2000, more than two-thirds of students in some grades were taught some math and science courses by educators who had not majored in those subjects or had no certification in them. The report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," by the National Academies - considered the country's leading advisory group on science and technology - found that students' low performance in math and science was hindering the country's competitiveness in the world.

While the federal No Child Left Behind law has mandated subject certification for teachers at the secondary level, many districts, including Philadelphia, still struggle to find enough qualified candidates.

"This is trying to fundamentally change the way that math and science teachers are prepared," said Hai-Lung Dai, dean of Temple's College of Science and Technology. "In the United States for a long, long time, the education philosophy emphasized how to teach and less on what to teach. . . . Now, we just have to find a balance."

The new Temple effort will be based on a 10-year-old program at the University of Texas at Austin, which exponentially increased the number of math and science graduates who became teachers. Last spring, it graduated 77, compared with fewer than 10 the year before the program started, according to NMSI officials.

Only 40 or 50 of Temple's 3,100 math and science majors are planning to become teachers, said Kent McGuire, dean of the College of Education. They're doing so through a five-year program that graduates them with degrees in both teaching and their subject area.

The university hopes the new program will add 25 students in the first year, McGuire said.

"Five years from now, if we have 100 or 150 or 200 in the program, that would be huge," he said. "This will have worked if we are able to double or triple our current enrollments."

The program, which will start at Temple with the class entering in fall 2008, works by providing teacher mentors and some tuition support for education courses in the freshman year and later internships. It also offers experiences in elementary and high schools as early as freshman year so that students can gauge their interest in the teaching profession.

The participants will graduate in four years - rather than five - with both a bachelor's degree in their math or science field and teaching certification.

Temple officials say they regard the new program as another approach to boost the quality of math and science teachers in the country. Temple also is beginning a program to train math and science professionals to become teachers; some other local colleges have similar programs.

"We are an urban university and we're surrounded by many large school districts, particularly Philadelphia, which certainly has a need for more qualified science and math teachers," Dai said. "Temple's leadership views this as a very important challenge for this region as well as for the country."

The Philadelphia School District was closed yesterday, and numbers on vacancies in math and science positions and percentage of teachers with degrees or certification in those subjects were not available.

But Al Bichner, the school district's deputy chief academic officer, praised the initiative.

"Certainly, it's going to help us build our infrastructure not only at the high school level but at the middle grades, where we need to bolster math and science as well," said Bichner, whose district receives a steady supply of teachers from Temple.

Temple officials will announce receipt of the grant at a news conference on Monday. The University of Florida and Florida State University both were given grants, and nine other recipients will be announced over the next two weeks, said Thomas W. Luce III, chief executive officer of the National Math and Science Initiative and a former U.S. Department of Education official under President Bush.

This is the first round of grants for math and teacher preparation programs to be awarded by NMSI, which started in March with a $125 million gift from Exxon Mobil and donations from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.

The grants were competitive, and 52 universities applied, Luce said.

"Temple had an excellent proposal showing lots of cooperation between the School of Education and the math and science departments," he said.

Temple's proposal was crafted by a team led by Heidi Ramirez, director of Temple's Urban Education Collaborative and a recent nominee of Gov. Rendell to fill a vacancy on the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, the school district's governing body.

Luce said the Texas program yields a high retention rate; 92 percent of the program participants go into teaching after they graduate and 82 percent are still teaching five years later.

"Teachers feel much more qualified to teach the content courses. They're not as frustrated," Luce said.

Temple's Dai acknowledged that beginning teacher salaries may be lower than what a math or science major could earn in his or her subject field. But, he said, the salaries become more competitive with experience.

"Eventually," he said, "it's quite competitive with many other jobs."


Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.