Some of the most prestigious universities in the country are taking up the challenge laid down by President Barack Obama and have committed to training 100,000 new science and math teachers by 2022. Thanks to the $22.5 million grant from Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the popular and effective teacher training program called UTeach will now find a home in the top ten research universities in the country.
According to Tom Luce, the head of he National Math and Science Initiative, schools embracing UTeach is a great step forward. Now the same universities that have been responsible for training the top researchers in the country will also put their expertise towards turning out science and mathematics teachers badly needed in America’s schools.
The mission of training 100,000 new STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers originates from a 2010 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, “Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) For America’s Future.” President Barack Obama first mentioned the goal in his 2011 State of the Union Address, saying, “over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.”
UTeach has its origins in University of Texas where the program was first put into practice in 1997, Scientific American reports. It is based on the premise – long embraced by education experts – that to be an effective science or math teacher, one must also have thorough understanding of the subject area along with the strong teaching skills required for any educational professional.
The poor performance of American students in science and math could be explained in part by the fact that fewer than 60% of math teachers and only 61% of science teachers in American high schools even majored science or math. The numbers are substantially worse in middle schools.
UTeach instills both sets of skills in its students. The program is a collaboration among a university’s schools of education, liberal arts and sciences and local school districts. It recruits undergraduate math and science majors to pursue teaching careers, and students graduate in four years with both a STEM major and all the courses needed for a teaching certification.
One of the benefits of UTeach is the fact that its graduates stick around the teaching professions at a much higher rate than the average new teacher. Roughly 40% of teachers leave the profession within 5 years of starting their employment; the attrition rate for UTeach graduates is less than half of that. Eighteen percent of teachers who trained at UTeach leave in the first five years, for a retention rate more than 80%.