Monday, November 13, 2006

Reflection on the President’s Proposals

The president has proposed two new programs. One would train 70,000 high-school teachers to lead Advanced Placement courses in science and math. A second would bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms and give early help to struggling students.
... there was a specific concern about math and science scores. The President will build on the success of No Child Left Behind and propose -- to train 70,000 high school teachers to lead advance placement courses in math and science. We'll bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms and give early help to students who struggle in math so they have a better chance at good high-wage paying jobs. [Whitehouse Press Briefing]
The proposals themselves are a tacit admission that there continues to be something wrong with math and science education despite the fact that the vast majority of math and science teachers are “highly qualified”. Calculus is part of the high school curriculum. A “highly qualified” mathematics teacher should be able to teach calculus without needing additional content training, yet that is where the training in this proposal seems to be targeted
... provide incentives for current math, science and critical language teachers to complete content-focused preparation courses; [Expanding the Advanced Placement Incentive Program]
The second part of the proposal — putting math and science professionals in a classroom to help struggling students — presupposes that these professionals know how to help struggling students. Why should they? This is far more about pedagogy than it is about content knowledge. If their current teachers do not have the content knowledge to help them, why are they in the classroom?

Here’s a thought — wouldn’t it be better to have the professionals, who presumably understand the content, teach the advanced placement courses and let the teachers, who presumably know about helping struggling students, help the struggling students.

I recently had a friend resign his teaching position at a local high school. Until this September he was a scientist (physics Ph.D.) who worked in a research lab. He went alternate route, passed his Praxis II tests by wide margins, and even had the benefit of some preservice training.

As in many American high schools, seniority plays a significant role in how teaching assignments are made. So rather than being assigned to teach high level courses, where his superior content knowledge would be a big plus, he was assigned to teach fairly low level courses, where his lack of teacher training began to show. His students expected to entertained more than taught. They did not expect to have to think. They began to rebel and it was all downhill from there.

This school lost a potentially great teacher who was mis-assigned. Let’s hope the president doesn’t make the same mistake.


Allison said...

why not teach the teachers some real math instead?

Anonymous said...

"We'll bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms and give early help to students who struggle in math..."

It's not totally clear to me what the prez has in mind, but he may be on to something.

Underperforming schools need pullout programs in which small groups get intense instruction in math and science.