Initiatives target math, science instruction

The call for better math, science, and technology education in U.S. schools intensified last week with the announcement of two new initiatives–one from the private sector, one from the federal government–aimed at bolstering instruction in these areas.

International Business Machines (IBM) Corp., worried the United States is losing its competitive edge, will financially back employees who want to leave the company to become math and science teachers, the company said on Sept. 16. And the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is forming a partnership with TechNet, a group of technology companies, to create workshops for math, science, and technology teachers in urban areas.

IBM’s new program, announced in concert with New York City and state education officials, reflects technology industry fears that U.S. students are falling behind their peers from Bangalore to Beijing in the sciences.

Up to 100 IBM employees will be eligible for the program in its trial phase. Eventually, Big Blue hopes many more of its tech-savvy employees–and those in other companies–will follow suit.

The goal is to help fill shortfalls in the nation’s teaching ranks, a problem expected to grow with the retirement of today’s educators.

Forty percent of public school teachers plan to exit the profession within five years, the highest rate since at least 1990, according to a study released in August by the National Center for Education Information. The rate is expected to be even greater among high school teachers, half of whom plan to be out of teaching by 2010.

The projected turnover rate will deprive school districts of an enormous amount of teaching experience just as the U.S. pushes to get a top instructor in every class.

Math and science are of particular concern to companies in many U.S. industries that expect to need technical workers but see low test scores in those subjects and waning interest in science careers.

“Over a quarter-million math and science teachers are needed, and it’s hard to tell where the pipeline is,” said Stanley Litow, head of the IBM Foundation, the Armonk, N.Y.-based company’s community service wing. “That is like a ticking time bomb not just for technology companies, but for business and the U.S. economy.”

While many companies encourage their employees to tutor schoolchildren or do other things to get involved in education, IBM believes it is the first to guide workers toward switching into a teaching career.

The company expects older workers nearing retirement to be the most likely candidates, partly because they would have more financial wherewithal to take the pay cut that becoming a teacher likely would entail.

The workers would have to get approval from their managers to participate. If selected, the employees would be allowed to take a leave of absence from the company, which includes full benefits and up to half their salary, depending on length of service.

In addition, the employees could get up to $15,000 in tuition reimbursements and stipends while they seek teaching credentials and begin student-teaching.

From then on, the IBM people would become school employees–the program will encourage them to work in public schools, but they can go private if they wish–and leave Big Blue’s payroll. But IBM plans to offer a mentoring program that would give its former workers guidance and teaching materials over the internet.

New York State Education Commissioner Richard Mills, left, Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools Joel Klein, center, and IBM International Foundation president Stanley Litow talk to first grade students in New York at the announcement of the IBM “Transition to Teaching” Program. (Associated Press photo)

“It’s not an easy transition to make,” said Litow, a former deputy schools chancellor in New York City.

IBM’s announcement reflects a growing trend in which math, science, and technology experts are being trained to teach, as school systems expand their recruitment beyond colleges of education to other career fields.

Broadening this pool of prospective teachers will help fill the void of retiring teachers, said Michelle Rhee, president of The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit group that helps some of the largest school districts recruit teachers.

Teacher-to-Teacher additions

In contrast, ED’s announcement–which aims to promote strong technology skills among teachers–focuses on training the current educator workforce.

“TechNet believes one of the most significant threats America faces today is our declining commitment to math, science, and technology education,” said Jim Hock, a TechNet spokesman. “As such, we must make improving our young people’s ability in these disciplines a national priority.”

Having teachers better trained in math and science will allow these teachers to reach out and educate others, Hock added.

“Our goal is to train 100,000 teachers during the 2005-2006 school year in math, science, and technology, and to amplify the skills of elementary and secondary school teachers,” he said. TechNet is lending its expertise, as well as financial support, to these efforts.

TechNet is a bipartisan political network of chief executive officers that promotes the growth of technology and innovation.

ED’s partnership with TechNet is one of several new additions to its Teacher-to-Teacher initiative, a program that offers educators professional development and research-based strategies.

Another new addition to the program is a Teacher-to-Teacher Training Corps, made up of teachers who will provide on-site technical assistance to school districts.

Teachers and school leaders who use scientifically-based research strategies and who have data to demonstrate effectiveness may apply for membership in the corps. Corps members also will host regional workshops and will lead presentations at ED’s 2006 Teacher-to-Teacher workshops.

In addition, a new department web site will feature information for teachers, along with a place to submit questions directly to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. “Ask the Secretary” is a new web page that gives teachers the opportunity to ask the secretary questions and learn information about a range of subjects, including teacher quality, professional development, and state academic standards.

The Teacher-to-Teacher initiative offers workshops for teachers, teacher and principal roundtable discussions, regular eMail updates, and free online professional development. More than 4,500 teachers have participated in these workshops and roundtable discussions, and the Teacher-to-Teacher initiative in general has helped more than 200,000 teachers to date, according to ED.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia accept ED’s Teacher-to-Teacher summer workshops and online professional development courses for credit. The free digital workshops have been expanded to include 32 courses and are available to teachers around the world.

The next round of Teacher-to-Teacher workshops is scheduled for summer 2006 in Atlanta.

“Highly skilled teachers are the key to closing the achievement gap,” Spellings said. “The U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher-to-Teacher initiative is helping teachers strengthen their skills by increasing their opportunities to engage in frequent professional development.”


IBM Corp.

National Center for Education Information

The New Teacher Project

U.S. Department of Education

Teacher-to-Teacher initiative



Schools get creative in teaching Constitution

The Fresno Bee of Fresno, Calif., reports on how local schools elected to celebrate Constitution Day. At one middle school, students were encouraged to memorize the Constitution’s 52-word preamble. Students at other schools watched a broadcast of Supreme Court justices discussing free speech, sang the “Schoolhouse Rock” Constitution song, or wrote essays about Constitutional amendments that directly affect them.


Futurist urges Mont. district to embrace tech

The Daily Interlake of Kalispell, Mont., reports on a lecture by consultant and futurist Ed Barlow, who spoke to local educators and business leaders about the importance of exposing students to technology if they are going to be ready for 21st-century economic demands. “We need to move from a system of education to a system of learning,” said Barlow, who sees the internet as the center of an entirely information-based world that is still in its developmental stages. In that sense, information literacy is a crucial skill students must develop in order to be prepared for the future.


U.S. history instruction not what it used to be

The New York Times reports that as American schools honor Constitution Day by offering educational programs related to the U.S. Constitution, there is evidence that most U.S. students are not getting a sufficient education in the nation’s history. Only 11 percent of 12th graders are deemed proficient in their knowledge of U.S. history, and a 1998 survey found that more young Americans could name the Three Stooges than could list the three branches of government. One person who has noticed the declining attention paid to history is the executive director of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. “We see it every day here, that people just don’t come with the same historical awareness that they used to,” said James Rees.


Schools, firms helping displaced students

As the flood waters from Hurricane Katrina recede and city officials prepare to reopen parts of New Orleans to residents, education leaders and company executives from coast to coast continue to offer their support and services to ensure that students displaced by the storm have a stable education.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has unveiled a new web site, Hurricane Help for Schools, aimed at funneling school supplies to schools that have taken in students displaced by Katrina. Schools can post their contact information and the supplies they need on the site, and companies and other organizations can view this information and follow up as appropriate. Companies also can list the materials or resources they are willing to offer, and schools can search for items they might need.

Hurricane Katrina displaced at least 372,000 students from Louisiana and Mississippi schools, Spellings said in an interview with the Associated Press. Of those students, about 247,000 are from Louisiana, where 489 schools were forced to close because of the storm. In Mississippi, 226 schools were forced to close, and the storm completely destroyed nearly 30, Spellings said.

Spellings has said she will ask Congress for unprecedented authority to ease aspects of the federal law governing the education of homeless children. She also said she will consider waiving aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), including requirements on yearly testing and teacher quality.

“Schools across the country are taking in displaced students, and Americans want to help them,” Spellings said. “We are committed to making sure that help gets to those who need it.”

A task force of national education leaders will meet to coordinate and distribute resources, and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is in contact with state and local education officials to offer support. ED also declared that it will, on a case-by-case basis, relax certain reporting aspects of NCLB for affected states.

The deadlines for applying to a number of higher-education programs have been extended until at least Dec. 1.

Alex Curtis, 12, sits in front of damage from Hurricane Katrina. Curtis said the roof of his family’s home in Biloxi, Miss., was ripped off in the storm. (Associated Press photo)

Private-sector organizations step up

Blackboard Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based provider of eLearning software, has announced a number of initiatives to help bring education back to the Gulf Coast region as quickly as possible. These include:

  • A no-cost hosting program, in which Blackboard customers impacted by the hurricane can have their online learning programs hosted by the company free of charge for the fall semester;

  • A license expansion program, in which Blackboard customers can add new accounts to their existing licenses at no additional cost to accommodate newly enrolled students or faculty members displaced by the storm;

  • An online course creation site, where instructors at schools impacted by the storm can develop online courses that will be hosted by Blackboard free of charge for the rest of this academic year; and

  • An online community site, where people can share resources and information to help restore teaching and learning in the Gulf Coast region.

“We want to get the word out to Blackboard schools that have been impacted so their students can continue learning–even if they are not able to go to an actual campus or classroom,” said Todd Gibby, executive vice president of operations at Blackboard.

Learning Today Inc. and Let’s Go Learn Inc., educational partners and providers of web-based reading and math curriculum, assessment, and instructional management systems for students in grades K-5, have announced a joint relief effort for displaced elementary-age students in the Gulf Coast. The effort will allow online assessment of each child’s reading and math skills and will deliver targeted, individualized learning programs to students based on the results, the companies said.

Students can log on from anywhere they can access a computer with a high-speed internet connection.

“We specialize in assisting students that are at risk of failing or falling behind in school, and we feel compelled to help the children who have been badly affected by this storm and its subsequent flooding,” said Dale Baker, chief executive officer and president of Learning Today. “By offering our system at no cost for the 2005-2006 school year, we hope to ease the difficult transition these victims and their schools face.”

Assessing each child’s skills will help educators place displaced students in the appropriate area of the curriculum without having their academic records available–and these assessments will be followed by an automated, individualized tutoring program to help children “hit the ground running” when they relocate to new schools, said Richard Capone, chief executive officer of Let’s Go Learn.

New York-based Icurio, a company that produces resource management software and serves the education industry, has opened up its Surplus module to the public to support relief efforts. The system enables people to donate goods and allows those in need to seek out goods.

Teachers and those wishing to contribute supplies can go to Icurio’s web site and log in using a preset user name and password. Contributors enter their contact information, what items they are offering, and the items’ quality and quantity. Individuals can request or take items they find on the site, and Icurio manages an audit trail for the process.

The National Education Association (NEA) has established a toll-free hotline number, (866) 247-2239, for schools, teachers, and school employees to apply for grants totaling $1 million. Public school employees personally impacted by the hurricane are eligible to apply for these grants to meet needs including housing, food, clothing, and other personal needs.

The NEA is also providing grants to public schools that have enrolled the roughly 300,000 students affected by the storm. These funds can be used to buy school supplies and other materials needed to accommodate increased enrollment in schools. Public schools and employees also can use the NEA grants to help displaced children with personal needs, such as clothing.

Summit Interactive, a Louisiana company specializing in math literacy tools, is offering its Ascend Math solution to Louisiana schools for the cost of installation only. The solution allows teachers to assess a student’s math foundation based on desired state standards, then recommends a targeted learning path, provides links to instructional content, and delivers reporting. Ascend is accessed through a school server and/or the internet.

The Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) has banded together with other organizations to form a consortium, called VSKOOL, to coordinate efforts and provide much-needed services in schools and other educational settings.

According to the group’s web site, VSKOOL is a consortium of online learning organizations, virtual schools, education institutions, technology companies, corporate and nonprofit organizations, and foundations working together to provide online K-12 classes, tutoring, and other educational technology solutions to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Specifically, VSKOOL will:

  • Find virtual school programs to offer courses, tutoring, and provide open seats to affected students;

  • Find highly qualified teachers with online teaching experience to volunteer to take extra students and tutor students;

  • Find corporate, foundation, and other organizations to provide support for online learning enrollment for students; and

  • Coordinate with computer hardware, software, and infrastructure providers to provide computers and broadband internet connectivity to create learning centers to run online courses for displaced students.

The SIIA said it welcomes suggestions in identifying software companies that can provide instructional, management, and learning tools that will keep displaced students on track in school. SIIA will transfer software company information to VSKOOL, where it will go out to states and education service agencies who are receiving displaced students.

The Sloan Consortium, an association of accredited higher-education institutions that offer online degree programs, is making available online college courses free of charge to students from institutions impacted by Hurricane Katrina and students serving in the National Guard whose studies were interrupted by being called to active duty in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The initiative is called “Sloan Semester,” and more information can be found on its web site (see links at story’s end).

Hertz Furniture Systems, a New Jersey-based school, church, and office furniture supplier, is donating a truckload of desks, chairs, and chair/desk units to the San Antonio Independent School District, to help the district accommodate its influx of students. The company has delivered enough furniture for eight classrooms. Hertz also has a limited supply of chairs and desks available free of charge, excluding shipping costs, to authorized school districts throughout the U.S.

Bush promises better disaster planning

These private efforts come as President Bush urges Congress to approve a massive reconstruction program for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast that could cost the federal government $200 billion or more. In a speech to the nation on Sept. 15, Bush also promised that the federal government will review the disaster plans of every major American city.

The president, who has been dogged by criticism that Washington’s response to the hurricane was slow and inadequate, said the nation has “every right to expect” more effective federal action in a time of emergency such as Katrina, which killed hundreds of people across five states, forced major evacuations, and caused untold property damage.

Disaster planning must be a “national security priority,” he said, while ordering the Homeland Security Department to undertake an immediate review of emergency plans in every major American city.

“Our cities must have clear and up-to-date plans for responding to natural disasters and disease outbreaks or a terrorist attack, for evacuating large numbers of people in an emergency, and for providing the food and water and security they would need,” Bush said.

He acknowledged that government agencies lacked coordination and were overwhelmed by Katrina and the subsequent flooding of New Orleans. He said a disaster on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces. He ordered all Cabinet secretaries to join in a comprehensive review of the government’s faulty response.

At the state level, state education departments are still working to accommodate students and teachers who were displaced by the storm.

Out-of-work educators in the Gulf Coast may find work in South Carolina, which has roughly 400 openings and is especially in need of math, science, and special-needs teachers, state officials say.

Inez Tenenbaum, South Carolina’s state education superintendent, said thousands of teachers in Mississippi and Louisiana are out of work. Teachers from those Gulf Coast areas who take jobs in South Carolina will be able to teach in that state for a year without getting certification, she said.

More than 12,000 Louisiana teachers, or 25 percent of the state’s teaching force, have been displaced by the hurricane, according to the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE). The agency is encouraging these teachers to seek work elsewhere.

Cecil J. Picard, Louisiana’s state superintendent of education, said he would make numerous requests to ED regarding NCLB, including requests for flexibility in meeting Adequate Yearly Progress and asking for Supplemental Education Services, or free tutoring, to be substituted for school choice.

LDE recently released preliminary enrollment information reported by Louisiana school districts that are accepting displaced students, and more than 20,000 students have enrolled so far, according to an agency press release. Nearly 21,000 displaced students are or are close to being back in the classroom, and six Louisiana parishes each have enrolled more than 1,000 displaced students.

Joseph B. Morton, state superintendent of education in Alabama, said the Alabama Department of Education (ADE) will issue emergency teaching certificates to displaced teachers seeking employment in Alabama. In and around Tuscaloosa, Ala., more than 200 students from Mississippi and Louisiana have enrolled in area schools, according to the ADE web site.

The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) also has requested resources, as well as NCLB waivers and flexibility, wrote Hank Bounds, Mississippi’s state superintendent of education, in an online press release. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has dispatched 400 portable classrooms to the state, Bounds said.

The MDE web site has an “Offering Assistance” link to anyone interested in donating supplies, materials, and equipment. The web site also has a “Hurricane Katrina Disaster Page” that provides information and other valuable links.

Mississippi has a uniform online system for collecting and storing student data, called the Mississippi Student Information System, that has been in place for five years, said Kameron Ball, director of federal programs in the Rankin County district in Brandon, Miss. Ball is the former state educational technology director for MDE.

Student records, grades, class schedules, and other vital information pertaining to the state’s displaced students can be accessed through this system. “We have this information that otherwise would have washed out to sea with the storm surge,” Ball said.

Once a displaced Mississippi student has been located in a new district in the state, this district will secure “ownership” of the student from MDE. When a district obtains ownership, the displaced student’s name and academic records can be used to help school officials make decisions about class placement and grade, Ball said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Hurricane Help for Schools

Blackboard’s Katrina Relief site

Learning Today Inc.

Let’s Go Learn Inc.


National Education Association

Summit Interactive

Software and Information Industry Association


Sloan Consortium

Sloan Semester

Hertz Furniture Systems

South Carolina Department of Education: Teacher Quality Division

Louisiana Department of Education

Alabama Department of Education

Mississippi Department of Education: Hurricane Recovery site


Ex-tech director pays price for kickback scam

The Repository of Canton, Ohio, reports that George Burwell, the former Canton City Schools technology director found guilty of taking kickbacks from a vendor last spring, has agreed to repay the district $5,000 in restitution. Burwell had already been find $500 and sentenced to 10 days in jail. The $5,000 settlemen was among the largest restitution amounts ever paid in the local municipal court.


Ariz. teacher’s essay wins Promethean grant

The Nogales International of Nogales, Ariz., reports on local high school teacher George Thomson, who won a 2005 Promethean Enrichment Grant, enabling him to bring the Promethean interactive whiteboard system and software to his classroom. A total of 80 K-12 teachers, including Thomson, won the grant for their classrooms by writing essays about what they planned to do with the Promethean system.


GPS making buses safer in snowy Alaska

KTUU-TV of Anchorage, Alaska, reports on the Anchorage School District’s ongoing installation of Global Positioning System (GPS) devices on all of it s buses. The district says the ability to track school buses on a single computer screen will boost safety, particularly in the winter months, when hazardous driving conditions in snowy Alaska might cause accidents. One bus driver said she appreciates the efforts the district has made to install GPS tracking. “Where I drive is way up on the top of the mountain, and I’m the only bus up there,” she says. “… But they can locate me and to me, that’s a good feeling.”


Students eager to learn video-game design

The Daily Bulletin of Ontario, Calif., reports on the booming popularity of video-game design education on college campuses. The Art Institute of California, for example, has seen its Game Art and Design program enrollment go from 21 students to 305 in just four years. And USC is now able to offer an MFA program in interactive media, thanks in part to an $8 million donation from game-maker Electronic Arts. Game design programs make sense for higher education, since video games now represent an $11 billion industry.


Whiteboards having big impact in Delaware

The Sussex Post of Sussex County, Del., reports on the success a local elementary school has had integrating technology–particularly interactive whiteboards–into its curriculum. Teachers at the school say they really enjoy teaching with the boards, and the school’s principal works hard to put this technology in the classroom of any teacher who requests it. “If you take this tool and put a really good teacher in front of it, it’s just an awesome combination,” the principal says.