Your Turn: 8 questions for Girod about closing UKanTeach
UTeach was created at the University of Texas at Austin in 1997 because Texas needed more math and science teachers. Through collaboration between the colleges of science and education, the number of science and mathematics teachers graduating per year doubled, the graduates went into teaching, and they stayed.
In 2005 a National Academies report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, described the shortage of high school science and math teachers as the main reason the US could lose its competitive global edge. The urgency generated by this report led to replication of UTeach across the US. Collaborating with the National Math and Science Initiative, and with funding from ExxonMobil, 13 new university-based UTeach programs were launched in 2007, one of them UKanTeach at the University of Kansas.
In 2007 the College of Education had recently closed its undergraduate STEM teaching pathway because of low enrollment. Since UKanTeach started more than 230 teachers have come out and dozens more are on the way.
On Aug. 19 Kansas officials told program leaders to close its Center for STEM Learning, and shut UKanTeach down by the end of the academic year. Rick Ginsberg, dean of education at KU said the program was “terrific” but expensive and he would take things over and develop a new model under control of the School of Education.
UTeach certainly does not have a monopoly on preparation of good STEM teachers. However, the decision to shut the program down, dismiss staff, and transfer control from one college to another raises many questions for KU Chancellor Douglas Girod.
1. External evaluation of UTeach shows that students of UTeach graduates gain four to nine months more learning per year than students of other teachers in the same school. What evidence of effectiveness do you have for the model with which you propose to replace UKanTeach?
2. Much of the cost of UTeach programs comes from supporting early field experiences, an example of best practice and a powerful recruitment tool. Will you continue to offer early field experiences for secondary STEM teachers at Kansas? If so, why will your program be cheaper than UKanTeach? If not, how will you maintain quality?
3. Students in UKanTeach can get science/math degrees and teaching certificates in four years. Education colleges typically add too many courses for this to work. What will you do?
4. When UKanTeach began, the University of Kansas had shut the path for students to graduate with a degree in math or science and a teaching certificate. The governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius, wrote in 2007 that “Kansas has severe shortages of middle school and high school teachers in both these fields and UKanTeach will help address these shortages. This teacher preparation initiative addresses a very critical need in Kansas.” Does the need no longer exist? Why do you believe that without UKanTeach the number of undergraduate STEM teachers prepared will not drop to zero as it was the last time the School of Education was solely responsible?
5. KU received over a million dollars from the National Math and Science initiative that were used to start UKanTeach and millions of dollars from the National Science Foundation used in part to support its students. In accepting funds from the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), KU signed a memorandum stating that “NMSI is funding Recipient based on the expectation that the Program will continue and expand beyond the Term of this Agreement” and “Upon termination or expiration of this Agreement for any reason Recipient shall immediately repay to NMSI any portions of the Funds that…remain in the Program Account on the date of termination or expiration.” Are you prepared to refund endowment support Kansas received, and do you plan now to solicit more external funds from donors and foundations to start over?
6. How will you enable the dozens of students currently in UKanTeach to finish their teaching certification when the School of Education lacks instructors, space and equipment to do so, and when the claimed motivation for closing UKanTeach and the Center for STEM Learning is a budget shortfall?
7. Experience at dozens of UTeach programs shows that preparing science and math teachers involves costs typical of preparing other science majors. Why do budget shortfalls compel closure?
8. If not from Kansas universities, where should Kansas obtain math and science teachers?
— Michael Marder is professor of physics and executive director of UTeach at the University of Texas at Austin.