Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Expensive Band-Aid: STEM Part 2

From the previous post, math and science is not a full blown crisis yet. However, it does affect our homeland security and our collective expertise is on a significant down turn. So where can we find our next technical experts to help drive our economy and keep us as a world leader?

It starts in elementary school. We have to have students who are not afraid of math. The problem we face is that our elementary teachers have ridiculously low math expertise. This is demonstrated in SAT scores and in a recent report from NCTQ on the dismal state of math knowledge in our elementary teachers.

The quick solution is math specialists. The Washington Post has a great article on this and sadly a math specialist is needed to help the featured teacher explain “greater than” to her students. Sigh. So here we are putting yet another, expensive band-aid on education because we have sub-par teachers in the field.

But we need the band-aid because we cannot suddenly make math experts of the 2 million elementary teachers in our schools. For now we have to bring in a math specialist (on top of the reading specialists we also have in schools) to help. In Virginia, this cost $20 million a year to implement and recent legislation was rejected to fund this effort. The bill paid for one math specialist per 1,000 elementary students. So for the entire US, we need to invest an extra $818 million a year and find 22,854 new math teachers. Not gonna happen in this economy.

As in all problems that are so large in scale, it will take multiple efforts to reverse this trend. First – demand more math expertise from our elementary teachers starting with the rising juniors in education programs so at least two years from now we start getting a little better. Second – have REAL professional development in math for elementary teachers. In Florida every elementary teacher has to have a certificate in reading instruction and the Florida reading scores are rising dramatically in all subgroups - - hmmmmmm – could we do the same for math. Require all elementary teachers to have a math and reading instruction certificate?

Finally – take a look at Pennsylvania. They are moving the elementary certificate to PreK-4 only. After fourth grade you must have a subject matter specialization in order to teach. This is very cool though they are not implementing until 2013. Since NAEP testing on math starts in 4th, I might have started there for the math specialist. But at least this way, Pennsylvania 5th grade students will be receiving math instruction from a math specialist.

The longer we wait, the further behind we will fall. States need to act now or we will continue to place costly band-aids on more education problems.

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