To improve math and science instruction in classrooms nationwide, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has committed $240 million to 24 five-year grant projects through its ambitious new Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program.

The U.S. Department of Education will help fund the effort, which encourages K-12 school districts to team up with universities, research labs, and other organizations to address a number of shortcomings—including a lack of teachers with strong content knowledge in math and science, a shortage of students enrolled in advanced math and science courses, and a lack of challenging curricula and available content in schools across the country.

One focus of the grants will be to make sure teachers are trained in using technology effectively to improve math and science education.

“These partnerships will become part of a broad national network of interconnected sites that will share successful instructional strategies, entice and train competent science and math teachers, and improve learning for millions of students,” said NSF Director Rita Colwell.

The grants range in size from $2.4 million to Rochester University in New York to $35 million to the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM). Most projects are led by universities, though a few of the grant recipients—including Baltimore County Public Schools and Oakland (Calif.) Unified School District—are K-12 districts themselves.

Terrence Millar, a math professor who will direct the UWM project, said the effort will scrutinize how universities train future teachers, with the goal of graduating better-prepared educators.

The five-year project, which also will involve the University of Pittsburgh, will include public elementary, middle, and high schools in Madison, Los Angeles, Denver, and Providence, R.I.

“We’ll put first-class curricula in these schools and make sure teachers have the kind of training and support to make it successful,” said Andrew Porter, director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, where the project will be based.

Millar said children in the United States are not receiving the rigorous science and math education they need to become scientifically and mathematically literate adults.

“Not only aren’t we near the top, but we’re real near the bottom. It’s critical that people have a much better fundamental understanding of math and science,” he said. “This is important for the economic survival of our country. Our business and industries, the ones that are profitable, are moving to very high technology, modern strategies. We can’t have a work force that doesn’t understand the underpinnings.”

Another award will funnel $22 million to the University of Kentucky (UK) to enhance math and science programs across the state’s classrooms and in Appalachia.

The project will attempt to strengthen the quality, quantity, and diversity of the region’s math and science teacher work force at a time when many teachers are leaving the profession.

“Math and science education in rural schools has been neglected,” said Wimberly Royster, former UK vice president of research and graduate studies. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in those areas, and this project will allow us to make much-needed real progress.”

The Appalachian Mathematics and Science Partnership will be made up of 52 school districts and nine colleges and universities. It plans to target four areas to address the needs of the region, including pre-service teacher and administrator education; professional development of personnel in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 classrooms; student learning opportunities; and research to advance the understanding of rural education reform.

“The goal is to eliminate the achievement gap in science and mathematics in the central Appalachian region and to build an integrated elementary, secondary, and higher education system in this underserved region,” Eakin said.

NSF has opened competition for the next round of MSP grants. Successful projects will serve as models that can be replicated widely to improve math and science education nationwide. The agency strongly recommends registering projects by Dec. 2, although full proposals are not due until Jan. 7.

Links:

National Science Foundation
http://www.nsf.gov

Math and Science Partnership Program
http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2002/nsf02190/nsf02190.htm