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Spring 2009
NSM Tackles Teacher Shortage in Math and Science With Innovative Program for Aspiring Teachers

By Rolando Garcia
Natural Sciences and Mathematics

A pioneering program at the University of Houston to put more math and science teachers into Houston-area classrooms is growing rapidly as more and more Cougars answer the call to educate the next generation.

Enrollment in teachHouston, which started with 14 students in the spring of 2007, has swelled to more than 120 this semester. This innovative new teacher training program encourages some of the most promising math and science majors at UH to pursue teaching careers. Its success has caught the attention of the nation's leading school reformers and philanthropists.

If fully funded, teachHouston could produce as many as 100 top-tier math and science teachers annually for local schools. But to accommodate this growth the program will need more money for student scholarships. That is why former UH regent John Cater and other community leaders are launching a new fundraising campaign to ensure tomorrow's teachers have the support they need.

Taking On Public Schools' Toughest Challenge

It is no coincidence that UH is at the forefront of tackling the shortage of math and science educators as the challenges facing the state and the region are particularly daunting. More than 40 percent of Texas secondary students are taught by teachers who didn't even major in the subject they teach.

The result: Fewer than one in four high school graduates in Texas is ready for college-level science. And while in China 42 percent of all college graduates earn degrees in science or engineering, only 5 percent of American graduates do so.

Indicators show that U.S. students are falling behind their global peers in math and science and yet recruiting competent and passionate teachers in these subjects remains one of education's most intractable dilemmas. To address this growing shortage teachHouston – a joint effort between the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the College of Education – tries a different approach to teacher training.

The program cultivates its students' interest in teaching by pairing them with master teachers at UH and gives them classroom experience as early as their freshman year. Science and math majors who enroll in teachHouston are assigned a mentor teacher at a Houston-area public school. They observe veteran educators in action and then deliver math and science class lessons themselves.

The compact degree plan, which also includes financial assistance, allows students to work toward their teacher certification as they complete their science or math degree. The program is modeled after UTeach, a widely-acclaimed project at the University of Texas with a proven track record of producing first-rate educators with a passion for teaching. While half of new teachers leave the profession within five years, 80 percent of UTeach graduates are still in the classroom after five years.

Supporting Tomorrow's Teachers Today

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) – an education philanthropy funded by the ExxonMobil Corp., the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others – recently gave UH $2.4 million to start a program similar to UTeach. UH's teachHouston was among a dozen such replication projects undertaken at universities across the country and now boasts the largest enrollment.

Grants covered the program's administrative costs but additional funds are needed for student assistance. Many of UH's brightest science and math majors are foregoing much more lucrative careers because they are committed to educating the next generation of scientists and engineers. The money raised in the teachHouston fundraising appeal this year will be used exclusively for scholarships, work-study stipends and paid internships for teachHouston students. NMSI will match gifts, doubling the impact of each donated dollar.

These math and science students have a passion for teaching even though they will make tens of thousands of dollars less than their peers in the private sector. Scholarships will allow teachHouston's aspiring educators to pursue public service careers without having to worry about crushing student loan debt.

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