October 2012 Newsletter: Charter Schools and Recruiting Mathematics Teachers

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Charter Schools and Recruiting Mathematics Teachers

Recruiting and training skilled mathematics teachers can be a challenge for many charter schools. Charter schools can benefit from certain federal grants being awarded to universities to assist with this complex challenge, even if the schools are not directly involved with applications. This feature story of the National Charter School Resource Center's monthly newsletter focuses on a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded mathematics teacher recruiting and training program that involves collaboration with a university and science education and teacher development organizations and cooperative arrangements with charter schools. The newsletter also provides resources to further pursue the topic.
Many reports have called attention to the vital need to boost the achievement of K-12 students, especially in mathematics, in order to keep up with the advance of technology and ensure the well-being of the United States as it faces increasing global competition. For example, in 2000, Before It's Too Late: A Report to the Nation From the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century highlighted the fact that many high school mathematics students are taught by "out-of-field teachers" who "lack even a minor" in their main subject, a circumstance especially prevalent in high-poverty areas. Six years later, America's Pressing Challenge: Building a Stronger Foundation, a report from the National Science Foundation, echoed the concerns and called for improvement in working conditions, such as more competitive compensation, improvement in professional development, and greater involvement by higher education institutions. In 2009, The Mathematics and Science Teacher Shortage: Fact and Myth, a report from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, suggested that "there are sufficient numbers of qualified teachers, but not significant numbers of willing teachers." Although mathematics teacher vacancies are tougher to fill than vacancies in subjects such as English, the report suggests doing more to decrease turnover by improving working conditions and tapping "into the large reserve pool of former teachers." Just after the 1999-2000 school year, 35,000 mathematics and science teachers left the classroom, with 18,000 indicating that "job dissatisfaction was a major factor," according to the report.
In July 2012, the president announced a commitment supporting development of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) teachers, including stipends to help develop a nationwide corps of top teachers to provide training. Under the U.S. Department of Education's 2012 Teacher Incentive Fund, more than $31 million was awarded to help charter school organizations "improve pay structures, reward great teachers and principals and provide greater professional opportunities to teachers in high poverty schools." Meanwhile, the bar is being raised with new student assessments that are part of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards being adopted in nearly every state, a development noted in a recent Arizona Republic report.

University-Based Program Offers Charters Source of Mathematics Teachers, Training Collaboration

In an effort to help increase the supply and quality of mathematics teachers, NSF provides millions of dollars in grants around the nation, including those that support programs in higher education. For example, the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program seeks to "encourage talented science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors and professionals to become K-12 mathematics and science teachers." Also, NSF's Math and Science Partnership program "supports innovative partnerships to improve K-12 student achievement in mathematics and science." Follow the links for information about recent awards, including project abstracts with contact information, for the programs, and to learn whether the project offers suitable opportunities.
In 2012, American University in Washington, D.C., received a $1.8 million NSF grant for a program designed to help prepare people for the classroom who have strong knowledge of mathematics and science but lack training as teachers. "Lab2Class" fellows receive an intensive, yearlong training program and then move into a required four-year commitment as full-time teachers in public schools in Washington, D.C. The program involves collaboration with education support organizations and cooperation with individual public schools that host teachers-in-training. The program builds on an NSF-funded program in 2009 that focused on mathematics. Collaborating were American University, Math for America DC, the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Carnegie Academy for Science Education, and the city's public schools. The program also has received support from the Toyota USA Foundation.
Lab2Class fellows receive a master's degree with a full scholarship underwritten by the university, Carnegie, and NSF, as well as a $23,520 living stipend for the training year. They also receive a $10,000 per year supplement to their teacher's salary for the program term once they join a school faculty. Mentors continue to work with the fellows when they take on the full responsibility of a classroom of students. The program works to distribute fellows to schools in proportion to the distribution of students in the charter schools and district schools in the city.
Recruiting partner schools to host fellows involves development of an ongoing relationship for the support of teachers, according to Sarah Irvine Belson, one of the grant's principal investigators and dean of the university's School of Education, Teaching, and Health. "We understand that taking on a teaching fellow is a significant commitment, and we want to work with schools that are excited about the prospect of supporting new teachers," Belson told the Resource Center. Belson said it is important to know whether the school has the staff with the knowledge and ability to guide a developing teacher and whether the schedule will accommodate professional development and flexible approaches.
Fellows have come from a variety of backgrounds, some with doctoral degrees who have taught at the university level and one a veteran of Wall Street finance. Frequently, fellows, according to Belson, say they were not born with facility in mathematics and that "someone gave them the opportunity to think about math in a different way and that's what made them mathematicians." Few arrive with "a lot of understanding about how to talk to a 13-year-old," Belson said, adding that part of the value of the program is the chance to study how fellows develop their pedagogical knowledge and understanding of their students.
Julie Sara Boyd, an American University faculty member and director of the Office of Teacher Education, who works with the fellows program, came to her post from a mathematics teaching position at a Washington, D.C., charter school, where she hosted program fellows in her classroom who offered "another set of content eyes."
"I had these student teachers who really knew math," Boyd said in an interview with the Resource Center. "It's worth it to the teacher to have someone in the classroom who does a good job and also worth it for the students if they get more help." Host teachers also receive a stipend.
It also might be worthwhile to principals to invest in a fellow with strong knowledge of the subject. "It's easier for principals and instructional coaches to coach on pedagogy than content," Boyd said of her experience in schools. "It's really hard to fix when students are getting bad content."
Teachers who lack in-depth understanding of the field too often are instructing students only in how to perform mathematical procedures. "Every day is a singular event," Boyd said. "If you understand the connectivity, then teaching it is beautiful, and students get it. There are a million aha moments. It's not so scary."
Fellows are gradually acclimated to the classroom over the year, trying out teaching portions of classes and then entire classes in the fall and then taking over the class for two weeks in the spring. "You can't substitute for having your own classroom and being the only one in charge," Boyd said. "But you want to try to give them as close to that experience as you can with the proper safety net."


Survey of Charter School Leaders Underway

A survey of charter schools that is designed to provide industry benchmarking data has been launched by edLeaders , a nonprofit organization focused on best practices in charter school leadership and development.

Tennessee Attorney General Questions State's Law on Charter Schools' Use of Foreign Staff

An opinion by the attorney general of Tennessee challenges a section of a state law adopted in July 2012 that allows a charter school authorizer to reject an application or revoke a charter if the percentage of school staff from certain nonimmigrant foreign worker visa programs exceeds 3.5 percent. Read more.

USDA Grant Aids Expansion of Charter School's Fresh Food Program

A charter school in northeastern Oregon has been awarded $24,000 as part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant program that will enable the school to expand its use of fresh food and connections with area farms. Read more.

Charter School Exemplary Collaboration Grants Awarded for 7 Projects Totaling $1.2 Million

Seven grants totaling more than $1.2 million have been awarded by the U.S. Department of Education's Charter Schools Program to support collaboration between public charter schools, traditional public schools, and school districts. The first Charter School Exemplary Collaboration Awards program "encourages high-quality charter schools, traditional public schools and school districts to share resources and responsibilities, build trust and teamwork, boost academic excellence, and provide students and their parents with a range of effective educational options," according to the announcement. Read more.


June 30-July 3, 2013: National Charter Schools Conference in Washington, D.C.


  • Recruiting Effective Mathematics Teachers. How Do Mathematics Immersion Teachers Compare? Evidence From New York City. This 2009 report from Teacher Policy Research discusses efforts by the New York City Department of Education to develop alternative routes to teaching mathematics in the school system, focusing on an immersion program providing a concentrated training period for candidates who did not major in the subject in college but are otherwise well qualified. The report reviews the circumstances driving the demand for such programs, including shortages of certified teachers for low-performing schools. It also compares the backgrounds, performance, and attrition of these teachers with teachers following traditional certification and induction paths and those from the Teach For America program.
  • Recruiting Quality Teachers in Mathematics, Science, and Special Education for Urban and Rural Schools. This 2007 document from the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality provides tips and strategies to enhance recruiting of teachers, including building partnerships with college and university teacher preparation programs and providing high-quality opportunities for people in other professions to switch to teaching.
  • No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America's Education Schools. This 2008 executive summary from the National Council on Teacher Quality examines the foundation of mathematics instruction in elementary schools and offers five standards for the preparation of teachers of the subject. It also discusses instructional materials and offers an assessment of selected universities' approaches to educating prospective teachers of mathematics, noting the lack of mathematics training in the curriculum at many of the programs.
  • Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. This 2008 report, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, provides recommendations for improving and better understanding the methods of mathematics instruction, especially in teacher preparation and recruitment, classroom practices, and instructional materials. The report includes results from surveys of teachers about the challenges they face.