Reading, Writing, and Recruiting
A three-year-old University of Texas program aimed at attracting students enrolled in the College of Natural Sciences to teaching careers is still as necessary as ever, Austin Independent School District administrators and program participants say.
In response to the nationwide shortage of certified math, science, and computer teachers, UT began the program, called UTeach, in the fall of 1997. It offers students the option of becoming certified teachers while pursuing a degree in natural science. Students get classroom teaching experience as soon as they start the program, and later take education courses specifically designed for math and science teachers. The program is a collaboration between the College of Education, the College of Natural Sciences, and AISD.
A 1996 report by Recruiting New Teachers, a nonprofit group, found 68% of school districts nationwide had an immediate need for math and science teachers. According to a 1996 report of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 47% of all math teachers and 37% of all science teachers are working without a state license or a college degree in the subject they teach.
That shortage extends to Texas, where, according to a 1998 report by UT's Charles Dana Center, 21% of all math teachers, 22% of all science teachers, and 50% of all computer science teachers are "noncertified" -- meaning either they don't have state credentials showing they have an education in the subject matter they teach, have studied the methodology, and have passed a state exam, or they are teaching outside their field of certification.
"In some cases, I think it's really as bad as people with training in physical education going and teaching physical science," said Michael Marder, co-director of UTeach.
AISD offers certified math and science teachers a $1,500 signing bonus for coming onboard, and they gave emergency certification to 17 math teachers and six science teachers this year. But AISD still has a shortage, said Elma Berroness, the district's professional research and human resources coordinator. "It's very good [UTeach] is addressing this problem," she said, "and the teacher's education will be a benefit to the students." But Lu McCann, AISD's director of recruiting, staffing, and hiring, says the numbers don't tell the full story. "I don't think certification is the final determinant on what makes a quality teacher," she said. "I don't think students are suffering because of this."
AISD refused to release the current number of noncertified teachers working in Austin. But according to a 1998-1999 report by the State Board for Educator Certification, the numbers aren't good. In grades seven and eight, 10% of all math teachers and 7% of all science teachers are noncertified. In high school, 19% of all math teachers, 13% of all science teachers, and 30% of all computer teachers are noncertified.
UT's College of Natural Sciences has an enrollment of 8,500 students. When surveyed, 25% said they would consider teaching as a career. There are 200 students currently in the UTeach program, with 40 to 60 more joining each semester. The program's goal is to have 400 students in the program and certify 100 teachers a year, said Marder. At that, UT grads would account for fully 10% of the nation's newly certified secondary math and science teachers with math and science degrees from research institutions.
Without certified math and science teachers, Marder said, students suffer in college and in the work force. "The general level of technical expertise needed by the work force has steadily gone up and that means ... high school graduates now need to have a higher level of technical accomplishment than those 50 years ago," he said. "Employers are very clear on this, and yet the schools have had a difficult time meeting this challenge because of this shortage."
UT must work to help solve this problem, said Jere Confrey, co-director of UTeach: "The University of Texas has got to find effective ways to assist in the improvement and the survival of public education in math and science. I see this program as a critical piece of that." The program emphasizes teaching as a rewarding and challenging career, Confrey said. "You have to convince students that this is an exciting profession. We do value it. It's a worthwhile activity that is intellectually stimulating and an important contribution," Confrey said.
Jennifer Hurta, a UT biology senior, is UTeach's first student teacher, working this semester at Murchison Middle School. "If it wasn't for UTeach, I wouldn't have gone into education," she said. "It made me start thinking about teaching as a career. If I hadn't done it, I would probably just be taking biology courses instead of student teaching too."
Karen Green, Hurta's student teacher advisor at Murchison, has been a science teacher for 12 years and believes that bringing students like Hurta into the classroom will be beneficial. "They'll bring all their experience and knowledge into the classroom and I think this will prove to be very positive for the kids," she said. "Jennifer brings a lot of innovative thoughts and ideas into the classroom. It gives the students another resource."