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The Montana Math and Science Teacher Initiative

History of The Montana Math and Science Teacher Initiative

National Background: Critical Shortage of Math and Science Teachers

The 21st century has catapulted our nation into an increasingly interdependent and globalized world. With the advent and growth of the internet, unfettered access to information and communications is dramatically affecting advancement of innovative technology. For centuries, the United States and Western Europe have led the way in technological innovation, setting an unprecedented pace so desirable that thousands of students from around the world once vied for entrance into their research-based universities (Friedman, 2007). Recent reports and studies now show that the United States is no longer the pre-eminent leader in technological innovations and that our students are falling considerably below average in mathematics and science on international assessments (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2008; National Science Foundation [NSF], 2008; Program for International Student Assessment [PISA], 2009). To compound matters further, the internationally based Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), recent findings indicate the U.S. has one of the highest college attrition rates in the industrialized world (2008, p. 65).

In 2005, the National Academies released Rising Above the Gathering Storm, a report addressing the critical nature of mathematics and science education to the success of the United States in the 21st century. The report calls on educators, researchers, and policy makers to respond to the decline of U.S. competiveness and pre-eminence in the areas of science and technology through the following recommendations (The National Academies Press, 2005):

  1. Increase America’s talent pool by vastly improving K-12 mathematics and science education;
  2. Generate annual increase of 10,000 mathematics and science teachers for 10,000,000 minds;
  3. Sustain and strengthen the nation’s commitment to long-term basic research;
  4. Develop, recruit, and retain top students, scientists, and engineers from both the U.S. and abroad; and
  5. Ensure that the United States is the premier place in the world for innovation.

Rising Above the Gathering Storm provided the catalyst for leading educators and policymakers to convene and form their own organizations to respond to the recommendations put forward in the report. The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) created the Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative (SMTI). As of May 2009, 113 of 185 universities constituting its membership and 11 of 27 university systems nationwide have made the commitment to SMTI to increase the quality, quantity, and diversity of mathematics and science teachers (SMTI, 2009). The University of Montana and Montana State University are among those institutions making such a commitment.

Various responses have emerged. In Texas, for example, a group of leading educators convened and created the National Math and Science Initiative, Inc. With funding from the National Science Foundation and private organizations such as Exxon-Mobil, they created the UTeach and AP Training and Incentive programs, which now serve as national models for improving K-12 mathematics and science education.

Elsewhere, reports have been generated to outline comprehensive recommendations for states and the nation to design strategic steps necessary to implement educational reform through effective instructional practices and educational leadership. These have included the following:

  • The National Governor’s Association released Building a High Quality Education Workforce – A Governor’s Guide to Human Capital Development (2008) to encourage states to develop a cohesive initiative by engaging in a series of interdependent recommendations. Such recommendations build on interrelated activities regarding the need to improve the quality of preparation, recruitment and retention of teachers.
  • The Carnegie Corporation of New York empanelled a Commission on Mathematics and Science Education which produced The Opportunity Equation – Transforming Mathematics and Science Education for Citizenship and the Global Economy (Carnegie Corporation, 2009). In this report, the committee members assert that in order for the nation to improve student achievement in mathematics and science education, it will be necessary to employ an eclectic approach to educational reform, not one simply mitigated by changes only in mathematics and science but in all subject areas.

The national imperative is inspired, as well from President Barak Obama. On April 27, 2009, in his historical address to the National Academies, he added his own charge to the nation:

…I'm challenging states to dramatically improve achievement in math and science by raising standards, modernizing science labs, upgrading curriculum, and forging partnerships to improve the use of science and technology in our classrooms. I am challenging states, as well, to enhance teacher preparation and training, and to attract new and qualified math and science teachers to better engage students and reinvigorate those subjects in our schools (The White House – Office of the Press Secretary, 2009).

Notably, in support of his charge and in response to the recommendations set forth by The National Academies and others, President Obama further included in his budget the following funding opportunities:

  1. $5 Billion “Race to the Top” – support to improve the quality and supply of math and science teachers;
  2. America COMPETES Act;
  3. Use of Recovery Act Funds; and
  4. National Science Foundation – Robert Noyce Scholarship Program.

These commitments support research and education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at the national level. Throughout the country, STEM advocacy groups and other stakeholders are rallying to the cause and urging states to respond to the challenge. In Montana, we have already begun to do so with the creation and development of the Montana Math and Science Teacher Initiative.

  • The National Academies released Rising Above the Gathering Storm (October 2005) recommending an annual increase of 10,000 math and science teachers to bolster America’s competitiveness and pre-eminence in the areas of science and technology.
  • In response to this recommendation, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU, formerly NASULGC) created the Science and Math Teacher Imperative (SMTI).
  • SMTI asked presidents and chancellors of state university systems to respond by committing to increase quality, quantity, and diversity of mathematics and science teachers completing programs on their campuses.

State Response: The Montana Math and Science Teacher Initiative (MMSTI)

Recognizing Montana is not isolated from the national imperative to increase the quality, quantity, and diversity of math and science teachers, President George M. Dennison of The University of Montana initiated a task force to begin galvanizing leadership to assess the situation of math and science education in our state. Collectively supported by President Dennison and President Geoff Gamble of Montana State University, Commissioner Sheila Stearns of the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, and State Superintendent of Schools Linda McCulloch (subsequently replaced by Denise Juneau) of the Office of Public Instruction, key stakeholders have been invited to join the Montana Math and Science Teacher Initiative (MMSTI) as members of a planning group. Among the members were statewide association directors and the three of us—Superintendent Alex Apostle, Dean Roberta Evans and Project Coordinator Dr. James J Hirstein (see Appendix D).

On October 3, 2008, Dennison convened the first meeting to calibrate shared perceptions, discuss proposed stages of the initiative, and begin building a foundation from which MMSTI could be launched. The following charges to guide and facilitate the development of MMSTI emerged:

  1. Conduct data collection and analysis to provide valuable information regarding the production and demand of math and science teachers, the recruitment and retention, as well as the effectiveness of these teachers;
  2. Identify problems and barriers related to the findings of the data collection and analysis with an eye towards discovering future opportunities to foster growth of the initiative;
  3. Propose solutions by reviewing national responses and promoting innovative strategies to improve critical partnerships among key stakeholders that will increase the recruitment and retention of effective math and science teachers at all grade levels; and
  4. Develop a plan of action that encompasses the dynamics of building a collective state vision to improve student achievement P-20 through sustainable partnerships.

Dr. James J Hirstein

Professor of Mathematics

The University of Montana