Thursday, July 19, 2012

Obama's $1 billion master teacher program

Two years ago, an advisory group on scientific competitiveness recommended that the US create a "master teacher" corps in STEM fields. These highly compensated teachers would mentor other teachers, create new lesson plans and aid in professional development. Recently, the White House threw its weight behind this idea, calling on Congress to create a $1 billion master teacher program for science, math and technology.

While it's unclear any new spending will get passed these days, it's a fascinating idea. Several years ago, I wrote about a program called Math for America that provided extra professional development and bonus checks for math majors who became teachers. People with STEM degrees may be in more demand in industry, so education represents a potential income cut that might not be as pronounced for an English major. A program that paid them more and gave them an elite status could help with recruiting.

Broadly, the idea also hints at extending the reach of knowledgeable teachers. This raises the whole class size issue again. In recent years, there have been several programs to reduce class sizes. The problem is that if it's already hard to get good math teachers, getting more of them is going to be even harder. If you have to dip lower into the applicant pool to get smaller class sizes, the class sizes might not wind up being the deciding variable.

So what I'd love to see is this master teacher idea combined with a blended learning program, so that even more kids could get access to the best math lectures, and work on problem sets, and then get one-on-one time from master teachers, who could potentially handle classes with 40 kids or more with an instructional aide. Maybe that aide could be a student who's a math major, apprenticing with one of these master math teachers. It's an idea...

What do you think of the master teacher idea?

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Awful! I know you keep harping on this blended-learning/digital learning idea, but I think it is the pits. I've already stated all of my concerns about digital learning vs. human learning. You might think I'm a teacher, or totally pro-teacher-union, or something similar, but it's not the case (in fact, in my town, I am fighting for a stronger negotiator vs. the teachers' union in upcoming contract negotiations). But I have seen first-hand how digital learning completely pales to human teaching, when done even with just average skill. I would NEVER PUT MY CHILD as a guinea pig for digital education. Give me a great live teacher any day.

Now, master teachers overall....fantastic. Well-paid, highly respected STEM teachers--awesome. Just not with 40 kids per teacher, please.....

Anonymous said...

More info. on cyber schooling. It is not yet what it could be. The technology behind the go-to-meeting option is not where it needs to be. The teachers and sometimes even the principal have so much flexibility that most taxpayers would be demanding more of an accounting for their time. The work of the students is shared online to the extent that one wonders how ideas and privacy will be protected in the future.

Anonymous said...

More on cyber schooling: The same exact problems that happen in a brick and mortar setting happen online. It seemed unhealthy for younger children especially to have teachers through cyber space instead of in person.

lgm said...

I like Lou Gerstner's idea of turning engineers in to teachers. Many would like the shortened work hours (as compared to engineering) while the children are young. Unfortunately the Union here wants another 4 years of education instead of fast tracking...

Anonymous said...

Like the engineer idea. That would work for our family. Engineers are so smart, used to problem solving and easier for other high IQ types to work with. Colleges that focus on producing teachers do not seem to understand smart kids.

Twin Mom said...

I'm an engineer and most of us would not be good math teachers. We would do GREAT with kids who get math and/or want to learn but lack the charisma to motivate the bulk of children, who struggle or don't want to learn math.

One of my close friends is head of the math department at our local middle school. With above average kids who behave, classes of 35-40 can work (but who can do grading for 200 students from 5 periods in a 50 min prep period and ALSO prep?) With average of below kids, 40 is a disaster due to behavior issues and the need for personal assistance.

Anonymous said...

The comments are geared for the gifted and talented children, including the profoundly gifted children (and there are other sites just for the latter as well). You are correct; the idea would not be right for the average or below average students as far as I know, but the authors of the comments here are way above average and do not speak for the average or below average.

Anonymous said...

There is an article coming up online in a UK publication called The Guardian, which may not be familiar to everyone, but it seems to be commenting on the treatment of the topic of the education of possibly gifted and talented students in the UK. Might be worth reading if you have the time.

lgm said...

Sounds like stereotyping. You can't have it both ways..these were the people who were denied placement by instructional need in K-12 and forced to peer tutor instead. They did the job well, and many do continue to tutor on the side.

lgm said...

Twin mom if your school district is having trouble with average or below behavior needs in math class, your district needs to take advantage of learning from other districts. That problem is solved here with the use of placement by instructional need in high school, as well as double period math classes and afterschool tutoring. Other motivational strategies are also employed.

Twin Mom said...

The district definitely takes advantage of learning and the middle school is one of the top in the state, near a Tier 1 research university. But it still has its groups of "basic" math students, many from homes without a lot of stability. It's hard to worry about algebra when you don't know where you're going to sleep tonight. I really feel for my teacher friends.

lgm said...

Twin Mom,

There are actions that will help. Your district needs to reach out to other diversified districts and find out what they need to do.

Night high school, for ex, works. Kids are off the streets and out of the unstable household, get instruction and time to do hw, and leave without having any hw to do at home.

Alternative middle school works. Hours are set for the families, not for the teachers. Bussing is set to pick up entire families, so the scenario of the oldest not going to school b/c she has to watch the little ones is avoided.

Using computer programs for math hw works - students can have individualized appropriate work rather than whole class/get behind rapidly.

Homebound instruction works for many, especially those taking care of adults.

Having a math teacher available to every study hall or a math learning center works.

A partnership with the local police and social services will help the housing situation.

A partnership with the Y will provide a neighborhood safe haven and instruction for sports, which will prevent gym classes of disgruntled youth who refuse to participate.

Yes, it's rough - but it is not impossible. Many of the behavior problems disappear when the students are placed appropriately for instruction and a competent teacher is available.

The super of a nearby city poverty district is bringing in a strings program...he's three years in to it and can't say enough about his resultant rise in math scores and self-discipline. It is something that every child can see incremental progress in with a bit of work, and that transfers to the rest of the school day.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to everyone who uses this exchange to figure out solutions for people who are born with left and right brain functions intact. You are very greatly appreciated. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Everyone can check the other great sites on the web, too, such as at SENG, NAGC, World Council for Gifted and Talented Children and the list goes on.... So much information documented in different countries. Interesting and helpful.

K-Man said...

This STEM master teacher idea would seem to be broadly pointless. The notion that we have shortages of STEM personnel and need more is, and generally has been, utterly false.

A nation that produces little needs few scientists and engineers. The reality is that salaries in these fields have remained stagnant for years, and many recent graduates with loads of student loan debt, as well as older workers (due to rampant age discrimination), cannot find decent work in their fields.

Companies have bleated about shortages to justify offshoring jobs and bringing in foreigners on special visas at much lower pay to displace US workers—who have often had to train these replacements. We have shortages in very few STEM fields; gluts are the reality, as with virtually all university majors.

I do not encourage anyone to enter the scientific or engineering fields in the US. China and India present different stories. Unfortunately, it appears that our gifted will have to move out of the US to one of those countries to find such a job.

Master teachers are a great idea, but 35 years too late. Sorry to be so gloom-and-doom, but I have become rather tired of the incessant ignorant claims from many quarters of ongoing shortages of STEM majors. Please don't fall for them, as many such claims are simply devices to keep pay down by maintaining gluts of graduates desperately finding work.