To improve instruction, schools and colleges must cooperate more

High school science teachers returning to the college lab. College professors getting tips on training math teachers from the teachers themselves. School districts and universities sharing science equipment.

More of that kind of cooperation between higher education and K-12 schools would enhance science, math, and technology instruction for America’s schoolchildren, according to a report issued Aug. 16 in Washington, D.C., by the National Research Council.

The report, titled “Educating Teachers of Science, Mathematics, and Technology: New Practices for the New Millennium,” comes amid mounting pressure to improve education by stiffening requirements for teachers and giving students high-stakes exams.

The report’s authors said science, math, and technology education should be seamless, from kindergarten to graduate school.

“The education system must bridge the traditional divide between K-12 and postsecondary educators and collaborate in a way that mirrors athletic teams,” said Herbert Brunkhorst, the panel’s co-chairman and a head of science, math, and technology education at California State University at San Bernardino.

The 15-member panel consisted mainly of university educators and public school officials. The $300,000 study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

The panel’s chief recommendations:

  • Educate teachers of science, math, and technology throughout their careers.

  • Raise the status of teachers through rewards, incentives, and expectations.

  • Hold colleges and universities more accountable for educating teachers.

  • Involve more scientists, mathematicians, and engineers in local and national efforts at teacher education.

The panel cited an existing partnership between Kansas State University (KSU) and a trio of school districts. In the alliance, teachers and college faculty members work together on curriculum, teacher training, and research.

KSU’s College of Education has helped establish “professional development schools” in 12 elementary schools, four middle schools, and one high school. Each professional development school has identified at least one KSU faculty member to work with the building’s principal to coordinate professional development activities.

Teachers, administrators, and KSU faculty all serve as co-planners, teachers, and evaluators of methods courses and field experiences.

In another example, about 25 New York City schoolteachers work beside Columbia University scientists every summer to hone their science skills.

“It will be of increasing importance that K-12 teachers understand what is going on in research science,” said Robbie McClintock, who directs the Institute for Learning Technologies at Columbia’s Teachers College. “And research scientists need to be aware that students can make use of the tools that they’re developing.”

The National Education Association is working with 14 universities to improve teacher training, said Dennis Van Roekel, a former math teacher and now secretary-treasurer of the 2.5 million-member teachers union.

“It’s happening, but not nearly as quickly or universally as it needs to be,” Van Roekel said. “What we have are bonfires of new professional development, and what we need is a brush fire.”

The National Research Council report will be given to an Education Department task force created last year to look at math and science education in K-12 schools and recruitment, training, and retention of good teachers. Led by former senator and astronaut John Glenn, the National Commission on Math and Science Teaching in the 21st Century was slated to offer its recommendations Oct. 3.


National Research Council

National Science Foundation

National Education Association

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