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 area of focus for the grants is making 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.”

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. Full proposals are due Jan. 7.

See these related links:

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

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

U.S Department of Education http://www.ed.gov