College awarded $3.3 million grant

The College’s Center for Mathematics, Science and Technology received a $3.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to conduct a three-year study on various ways to improve recruitment, retention and preparation for math and science teachers in troubled districts.

The money, from the New Jersey Teacher Quality Enhancement Recruitment grant program, will be spent on researching programs in Ewing, Trenton, Vineland and Pemberton public schools, according to Sharon Sherman, professor of elementary and early childhood education.

The program will focus on recruiting new teachers, preparing these new teachers for the classroom, and retaining existing teachers in low-performing schools.

The recruitment aspect of the program focuses on getting more teachers to apply to low-performing districts. Sherman, one of the principal investigators of the study, said the center will hire a professional recruiter to develop a model for recruiting for high-need districts.

These high-need, low-performing districts – such as Trenton, one of the study locations _- are often some of the largest. And the size of these districts often makes the recruiting process slow and inefficient.

“Sometimes qualified teachers do apply, but the system is sluggish,” Sherman said.

To combat that, the study will develop and look at the impact of Web-based recruiting, a public relations campaign, and a high school program with a summer experience for students who may be interested in teaching math and science in low-performing schools.

The second part of the study focuses on preparing interested teachers to teach math and science. This part will include a summer experience for teaching majors interested in teaching the subjects in low-performing districts. The program will have a $1,000 stipend attached as an incentive to participants, and also will include free housing for the May 2007 semester.

But teacher preparation, Sherman said, often goes beyond getting college students ready to teach in low-performing districts.

It also means making sure the teachers that are there have the knowledge of math and science that they need to teach.

The other lead investigator, Cathy Liebars, assistant professor of mathematics and statistics, said many math teachers in low-performing districts don’t have a math background. Instead, they may have majored in elementary education, and find themselves teaching math.

“There is a real need for professional development and content knowledge,” Liebars said.

She said math isn’t just adding numbers, even at the middle and elementary school levels. Teachers have to know about geometry, probability, data analysis and algebraic thinking.

Teachers also must have the ability to analyze students’ mistakes and correct problems in understanding, Liebars said.

The third retention aspect involves a pilot program for new teachers, offering yearlong mentoring for some teachers and three-year long mentoring for others.

It will ultimately measure whether increasing mentoring time has a positive effect on teacher retention.

The project also is focused on helping teachers displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Sherman said the center is looking for out-of-work math and science specialists to help work on the study.

Additionally, it will aid teachers in Vineland as they implement a revised math curriculum by giving them online access to experts in the field.

The grant comes as an extension of other projects the center has undertaken that have shown success.

For example, its three-yearlong “Teachers as Leaders and Learners” program, which began in 2003, has provided support for 70 existing teachers in Trenton by offering weeklong professional development to help them implement a reformed math curriculum.

As a result, the students’ scores improved by 20 points in science, math, language arts and reading in Trenton’s low-performing schools.

In the long term, Sherman and Liebars said they hope their research will help state decision-makers with policy decisions in the recruitment and retention in high-need districts in the areas of math and science.

Ultimately, the professors also hope to develop a master’s program in education at the College for math and science teaching.

But most of all, they both hope that the project will help identify programs that will produce more – and better – math and science teachers in the areas where they are needed most. “Everyone wants their students taught by teachers who are prepared,” Liebars said.