“America’s future is on the line. The nation that out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow.”
–President Barack Obama
We’ve long since agreed that improving STEM education is vital. You know that sermon. That STEM is essential to keeping pace in an uncertain, evolving global economy. How without great technical education our kids can’t compete in world of new, more technical jobs. That it’s how we sprout the next big minds, the generation of critical thinkers to solve ever-mounting critical problems. But, there’s a lot to be done to get us where we need to be, and it all starts with great teachers. A lot of them.
A quarter of US schools have trouble filling math and science positions. On top of that, only 24% of new teachers come from the top of their class, in stark contrast to Finland, Korea, and Singapore, which draw 100% from the upper tier.
Three-quarters of current teachers will need to be replaced over the next decade, half of whom are veteran educators who will retire. President Obama has projected a shortfall of more than 280,000 math and science teachers by 2015. Gaping vacancies force schools to fill slots with under-qualified individuals. The US ranks 21st and 26th in science and math, respectively, among globally competitive nations, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED).
How are we meant to prepare our children for a harder future when we don’t have enough teachers, let alone qualified ones, to inspire them?
This is a crisis. A crisis of both quantity and quality of the most important ingredient for a first-rate education system. Fortunately many have heeded the call and are working hard to address this serious but solvable issue, including our new Learning to Teach Entrepreneur in Residence, Zach Levine.
I’m thrilled to welcome Zach to NewSchools and thankful that he’s working with us to found ElevatED, a new nonprofit that adds to the shared mission of NewSchools and our partners to improve STEM education by building a cadre of great STEM teachers. Zach’s mission is a significant contribution to the efforts spearheaded by our strategic partner 100Kin10, an organization focused on growing the ranks of excellent STEM teachers by 100,000 by 2021 through recruiting, improving preparation, prioritizing retention, increasing opportunities for teacher impact and by building a movement and awareness around this issue. The Learning to Teach EIR residency is generously funded by the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation as part of their ongoing mission to improve teacher preparation and STEM education.
As Green Dot Public Schools’ director of human capital it has been Zach’s mission to steer the brightest, most capable college students into STEM teaching careers. How? By getting beyond the stereotypes and exposing them to the realities of teaching and how much a career in education has to offer.
“Teaching is a job with so many benefits. Many students consider it at some point, but not enough commit to it,” said Zach. “That’s because often these college students are using impressions they’ve gathered about teaching from the experience of being a grade-school student, which doesn’t give you an accurate gauge. They know very little about what the job is like when you are an exemplary teacher. With the stakes so high, we need to give them opportunities to form new impressions. We need a major initiative to recruit new STEM teachers.”
The rigors and joys of teaching are perilously misunderstood. For instance, most surveyed college students believe that a career in teaching will fail to challenge them intellectually, help them adequately develop leadership qualities, and lack opportunities for developing new skills.
Fortunately, great teachers will happily set them straight: that it’s one of the most intellectually challenging endeavors; that they’re mastering new, complex skills all the time; that they are becoming stronger leaders from years of building communities of learners; and that they take joy in the real impact they’re having on the lives and well being of children.
ElevatED will address these challenges by creating opportunities for college STEM majors to learn more about teaching, and, in fact, it will show them a whole new vision of teaching, including:
- Taking the time to talk to STEM major college students to understand their career values and beliefs about teaching
- Identifying and recruiting passionate and persuasive teacher “Ambassadors” to connect with students
- Creating opportunities for these connections to happen, such as undergraduate elective seminars, alternative spring breaks, and end-of-summer programs for undergrads to TA and shadow exemplary teachers
Starting at USC and Stanford, ElevatED’s programs will grow from campus to campus, intending to double the number of STEM majors choosing teaching careers within 5 years.
“That’s how we create a talent revolution for our schools,” says Zach.
As I’ve said, I’m thankful. Thankful that this truly important work continues and that someone as capable and inspired as Zach is adding his strength to it.