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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary: House Science Committee Hearing on Teacher Recruitment, Training, Professional Development & Retention

June 10, 1999

On June 10th the House Science Committee, jointly with the Committee on Education and the Workforce, held the third in its series of hearings on improving science and mathematics education in the U.S., focusing on teacher recruitment, preparation, professional development, and retention. Witnesses included Dr. John Staver, Director, Center for Science Education, President, Association for Education of Teachers of Science and Professor, Kansas State University; Dr. Howard Voss, Chairman , Physics Department, Arizona State University; Dr. Jane Kahle, Condit Professor of Science Education, Miami University of Ohio; and Ms. Pamela B. Tackett, Executive Director, Texas State Board for Educator Certification.

Rep. Ehlers kicked off the hearing by stating the importance of teacher preparation in the content areas in which they teach, and said he is disturbed by the number of teachers teaching in areas for which they have no major or minor. In this light he emphasized the role of schools of education in the preparation of these students for the workplace of the future. Rep. Ehlers also asked each witness to submit a short paper to the committee discussing America's dream with respect to teachers, and what the federal government can do to help. Rep. McKeon added that better trained teachers in their subject areas would ensure success.

Mr. Voss (recruitment) stated that because America no longer holds teachers in high regard, societal changes are necessary to recruit the more than 2 million teachers needed at the K-12 level by 2007. This effort, he said, will require national leadership as well as leadership from societies and business leaders. Dr. Staver (teacher preparation) said effective teachers of the future will need firm intellectual grounding as well as experience in four domains: science, learning, teaching, and the teaching setting. And, there must be integration across these domains. He then described 15 parameters of high quality science teacher preparation programs that achieve such integration. He also mentioned the emergence of the concept of a Professional Development School, working in partnership with a university for effective science teacher education.

Dr. Kahle (professional development) reviewed research on what makes for effective teaching practices and student achievement. She said short-term programs do not result in content knowledge for teachers or student learning. She said systemic reform increases student achievement because it incorporates standards-based learning. She stated that a successful program should have sustained, content-based follow-up experiences, including leadership opportunities and model strategies. There should be ongoing assessment, incentives, programs should be tied to career goals and there should be accountability. Ms. Tackett (Retention) said that teacher retention rates would increase if teachers were offered more support during the first 3 years where the percentage of teachers that drop out of the profession is high. She further noted the need for more collaboration between school districts and teacher preparation programs to create a new environment and standards for certification.

Rep. Ehlers started the questioning off with the hypothetical situation of what each witness would do if they were the head of a monarchy faced with the current problems the U.S. is faced with in teacher retention. Witnesses agreed that a major hurdle to solve is the lack of esteem with which we hold our teachers. There must also be a good opportunity for teacher development locally at colleges and universities. Ranking Member E.B. Johnson questioned witnesses on assessment measures for in-service training of science and math teachers to improve student learning. Dr. Kahle noted that while information dissemination in this area is effective within states, it is not so across state lines. She stated that systemic change initiatives move from the teacher being the center of change to the schools being the center of change. On the subject of teacher certification, Ms. Tackett said that until training is brought together with what is being taught, there will be fragmentation and, therefore, there is a need to put pressure on the higher education system to show they have responsibility for training teachers.

Rep. Biggert questioned witnesses on how to retain the best and brightest teachers. Ms. Tackett pointed out four reasons why teachers leave: frustration with not understanding the system; salaries; lack of administrative support; and discipline in the classroom. Rep. Biggert went to question whether the level of skill needed to teach math and science would keep teachers out of these subjects, to which Ms. Tackett noted this was especially true in middle schools. Rep. Woolsey talked about a bill she has introduced intended to encourage more women in science and engineering. Dr. Kahle stated that cooperative learning groups and inquiry-based learning are effective in getting and keeping the attention of girls and that building confidence, which these groups do, is the key. Mr. Voss echoed these comments.

Rep. Bartlett raised eyebrows by arguing that giving schools more money to improve the quality of math and science education may not necessarily go for those purposes, and could be sidelined into spending on other school activities like buildings, uniforms, etc. He further noted that many mothers look to the schools to take over their roles as they are forced by economic times into the workplace. Rep. Etheridge disputed these claims stating that the relevant questions are: What is the proper federal role in teacher preparation? How do we retain high-quality teachers? How can we improve the conditions under which teachers teach?

Rep. Gutknecht discussed the need for certification changes based on the market demand for qualified instructors, to which Ms. Tackett noted alternative routes to certification in Texas which added 5,000 teachers and involve mid-career people. She further noted that a major issue across the country is that school boards do not understand the culture of the schools. Rep. Etheridge added that where school boards used to do policy jointly with schools, they now have a tendency to want to do policy and lead.

Rep. Petri asked about science and math clubs and their effectiveness in capturing the interest of students. Dr. Staver mentioned funding from the National Science Foundation for teacher preparation for this purpose, and how these clubs are having positive results.