Sunday, September 25, 2005

Addressing teacher recruitment at UC

The University of California system is facing problems that are endemic to institutions of higher education around the country: double digit percentage drops in funding and double digit percentage gains in enrollment. It puts a serious squeeze on services for students, according to UC system President Robert Dynes.

He did an interview with the San Francisco Chrnoicle that appears in today's edition.

The whole interview is informative but, given the focus on this blog, I found this section particularly interesting. In it, Dynes talks about what UC is doing to produce more qualified math and science teachers which is one of the most pressing problems in American K-12 education. He also addresses the hot-button issue of standardized testing:

Q: Let's focus on the question of K-12 education. If we're not producing the kind of incoming freshmen from California's public school system that we need, where are we going to be?

A: We must continue to attract people from around the world to our graduate programs and all of that -- our graduate programs, our post-doctoral programs and our research programs. But if we're not developing in California the fruit stock, if we're not creating the next innovators, if we're not generating the next artists, the next engineers, the next scientists, the next Nobel laureates from Californians, we could very well have the finest university in the world and an almost dysfunctional K-12, which is totally unstable.

There are some fabulous schools in California. But, as I've traveled around, I've been shocked at discovering that in some school districts throughout California there are no -- none -- credentialed science and math teachers. None.

I always have used as a yardstick mathematical knowledge, the facility with which young people can estimate things. Truly, the way we get through life is by constantly estimating -- how long does it take? We're constantly calculating. And if I look at ninth-grade algebra, which is truly a yardstick here in California, we are not doing very well at all.

Q: What can the university do?

A: We've committed to preparing -- and this was a deal with the governor -- we are committed to producing 1,000 credentialed science and math teachers a year. They're entering our class this fall, and it's called "A Thousand Teachers, A Million Minds," so it's a catchy term.

Right now, we have in the bank from industry in California about $3 million. The goal is to have the students graduate in four years and be credentialed as master teachers and then be out in the schools in the fifth year.

Part of what industry has bought into is a model where industry will offer something in addition to the cash. The teacher spends a summer as an intern at a company like SBC Communications or Intel.

What happens is the teachers come out of there energized by the impact that science has on technology and on life. So they go back to the classrooms, and they're not teaching just out of the textbooks. They're teaching their experience.

Q: Are standardized tests helping or hurting education?

A: They're doing both. It's really important to have some form of standardized tests because that's the way you have a yardstick of what schools are doing well and what schools are not doing well. Now, when it drives teachers to teach to the test, that's harmful. You really want teachers who inspire excitement in your people. Creating the fire, creating the excitement, creating the inquisitive nature, is the most important thing.

I think he's hit it spot-on. And I'm intrigued by how the teacher training program he described will work -- or not work. It sounds good, but will those teachers stay in the profession given the low salary structure?


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