FOCUS: The Newsletter of the Mathematical Association of America, Vol. 18, No. 5, May/June 1998, p.6.
ENLISTING TWO-YEAR COLLEGES IN EDUCATING MATHEMATICS TEACHERS
By Lynn Arthur Steen
In the wake of the abysmal performance by twelfth grade U.S. students on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), many political leaders and policy experts have aimed their spotlights on a significant and correctable deficiency: the large number of mathematics teachers who have very poor preparation in mathematics. Thus in the space of little more than a year, the challenge enunciated in MAA's 1991 report A Call for Change has become a very visible national goal, attracting the attention not only of U.S. Education Secretary William Riley, but also of President Clinton.
Most MAA members are well aware of the responsibility of four-year colleges to provide appropriate courses and programs of study for prospective school teachers. Few realize, however, that two out of every five prospective teachers--and well over half of Hispanic and African-American teacher-candidates--study mathematics first at a two-year college. Indeed, two-year colleges enroll 46% of all undergraduate mathematics students.
Recognizing the emerging but unheralded importance of two-year colleges in the pipeline of teacher preparation, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMATYC) convened a conference last March to begin a process of strengthening such programs in the nation's 1,200 two-year institutions.
At this conference, eleven innovative two-year college teacher-preparation programs received awards in a ceremony at the National Academy of Sciences. In congratulating the award winners, Academy President Bruce Alberts observed that one reason science advances more readily than education is that science continually learns from successes and failures whereas education most often invents everything anew. These eleven programs, Alberts observed, provide a foundation on which others should build.
Out-going NSF director (and now Presidential Science Advisor) Neal Lane lauded two-year colleges for providing "the best of all possible educational objectives": preparation for today's technological workforce and habits of mind well-suited to teaching or other careers. He noted that NSF investment in two-year college programs has climbed in just five years from virtually nothing to well over $50 million annually.
Nonetheless, most teacher-preparation programs at four-year institutions operate without any explicit coordination with their neighboring two-year institutions. Many future teachers take their only introductory mathematics and science courses at a two-year college, sometimes even before they have selected teaching as a career. At the March conference, representatives from both the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation identified as an urgent national need increased collaboration on issues involving teacher preparation between faculty at two-year and four-year institutions (in mathematics, science, and education programs).
Community colleges are a prime recruiting ground for prospective teachers. Many are located in rural communities or in inner cities, directly serving the needs of these communities. There is enormous potential to interest students from these communities in the teaching of mathematics and science with the goal of returning teachers to these same communities.
Partnerships and alliances between two- and four-year institutions for this purpose would go a long way to strengthen the mathematical preparation of children, especially in communities not now benefiting from mathematically well-prepared teachers.
While separate programs do some good, they fall far short of fulfilling their potential or meeting the nation's needs. What conference participants called for are well-planned partnerships among two- and four-year colleges to create attractive, cohesive, high-quality programs. ******************************************************
Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU