NAU on front lines of math, science teacher push

August 19, 2009

By Flinn Foundation

National academic standards might still be up for debate, but Arizona standards are definitely getting tougher — and in subjects educators have long lamented as hard to staff.

Enter NAUTeach, a recently launched institute that aims to steer Northern Arizona University math and science majors into secondary school classrooms.

Janet McShane, an NAU mathematics professor and co-director of NAUTeach, said the legislative decision to require high school graduates, starting with this year’s freshman class, to complete four credits of math and three credits of science was actually coincidental to the establishment of NAUTeach. But it nonetheless has an important connection.

“The state’s projecting we’re going to need hundreds and hundreds more (teachers) because of the new requirement and because of our growth in the state, so it’s very critical,” she said, that math and science teachers be plentiful and highly qualified — especially at the high school level, where she said many math teachers don’t have math degrees.

McShane said NAUTeach has been popular so far. The program began offering introductory classes in fall 2008, and about 25 students continued into the second step in the spring. The third level, beginning this semester, has 44 students enrolled and the two sections of the first introductory class are full at 70 students, with a waiting list of 20 to 30 more.

The classes put students with pupils immediately. Fieldwork exposes them to kids of all ages, starting with elementary schoolers in the first course. Students also learn educational theory.

The ultimate goal is to graduate students with bachelor of science in education degrees with majors in math or science.

McShane said the program is looking forward to spreading out from Flagstaff schools to places like Williams, Winslow and the Verde Valley. Students receive a $125 stipend if they complete the first course successfully.

She said national standards would be helpful and although Arizona is somewhat behind the times in math requirements, students can rise to the challenge. President Barack Obama has specifically mentioned math and science when talking about his reform goals — in a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in March, he said American eighth-graders have fallen to ninth place for math achievement. He also called on a new generation of teachers to step into classrooms, and that “we support offering extra pay to Americans who teach math and science to end a teacher shortage in those subjects.”

NAUTeach is grant-funded but currently fundraising to grow its endowment. McShane said organizers would like to see NAUTeach build up an $8 million pot.

ON THE WEB: NAUTeach: Arizona high school graduation requirements:

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