Those Who Can, Teach

By Carl Marziali
Those Who Can, Teach

As word problems go, this was a no-brainer: A wave of retirements nationwide will aggravate the already desperate shortage of math and science teachers; colleges of education are not producing enough qualified replacements; urban areas will be hit the hardest. Name an urban university with particular strengths in science and technology and the desire, ability and capacity to train the next generation of math and science teachers.

When this problem began gaining increased attention a few years ago, the answer was obvious not only to IIT faculty, but to President Lew Collens, to executives of the Chicago Public Schools, civic leaders, the state Board of Higher Education and principals of the public schools that ring IIT like bearings on a hub.

In fact, says David Baker, vice president for external affairs, ‘no program that I’ve been associated with at IIT has had higher outside support than this one.’

The program, or programs, are the doctorate and master’s degree tracks to be offered by the new Department of Math and Science Education, as well as a cluster of 21 credit hours for those undergraduates who want to specialize in the subject while completing a BS in a science, mathematics or engineering area. Master’s classes began in fall, 2002. Bachelor’s classes will start in the fall of 2002 pending state certification, which is expected this spring.

Leading the department is Norman Lederman, a nationally renowned expert in scientific inquiry and the nature of science. Previously a professor of math and science education at Oregon State University, Lederman learned of IIT’s plans from a search committee and soon arrived at the same answer as everyone else involved in the project.

His reasons went beyond the obvious ones. Lederman was intrigued by IIT’s Interprofessional Program (IPRO), which requires every undergraduate to participate in two interdisciplinary research projects. As a longtime believer that science is learned through personal inquiry, Lederman decided that IIT offered unusually fertile ground. ‘There’s something in place here that’s not in place anywhere else,’ he says.

IIT’s relative lack of history in education made the university more attractive (the university trained some of Chicago’s best teachers in the ’60s and ’70s, but the program faded along with the Sputnik panic).

“One of the dreams I’ve always had would be to have total freedom,” he says. “Because IIT doesn’t have a program, doesn’t have a school of education, doesn’t have six or seven faculty that have been there for 100 years… the playing field is totally open.”

With a background that includes 10 years of teaching high school biology, Lederman also brings with him a $1.4 million professional development grant for working teachers. At OSU, Lederman struggled to find teachers willing to participate in the program. Providing the final push to leave Corvallis, Oregon, was the diversity in Chicago’s student body and in the city as a whole. Diversity is not only healthy for society, Lederman argues, but healthy for learning. ‘The street sense and the everyday wiseness of kids growing up in a city brings a lot to the educational environment,’ he says.

Some of those kids are learning right on IIT’s campus, at the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School (YWLCS). Lederman’s spouse and colleague, Judith Sweeney Lederman, will split her time between the new department and a half-time position as science director at the school. Before coming to IIT, Judith Sweeney taught high school science in Providence, Rhode Island, for 20 years and served as curator of education at the city’s museum of natural history. She also was a science educator at Providence College, the University of Rhode Island, and Oregon State University. The Ledermans have trained educators in international settings all over the globe, including a trip this spring when they conduct workshops and meetings at the University of the North in South Africa.

Building a math and science education department at an institute of technology ‘is something that is very special, very different and exciting, and appropriate,’ Judith Lederman says, describing IIT’s new department as being ‘unlike any other education department on any other campus’ due to the close links with science departments and the opportunity for aspiring teachers to participate in IPROs.

Those Who Can, Teach

An Urgent Need

The state of affairs in math and science education bothered Sidney Guralnick, Perlstein Distinguished Professor of Engineering, when he started looking for alternatives in 1998. One of Guralnick’s favorite sayings is ‘You must know a gallon to teach a drop.’

Guralnick asked himself the same question as many a science student: How can education majors become good math or science teachers without majoring in these disciplines?

Guralnick and several Armour colleagues-Porter Johnson, Ed Steuben and others-had incentives to find an answer quickly. Main Campus was about to become the home of the YWLCS, a unique experiment in math and science education for public school girls. Ideally, the teachers would come from IIT. For the last several years, however, the university had supported local schools only through teacher enrichment and technological aid.

In addition, retirement loomed for the many teachers who graduated in the ’60s and ’70s. Chicago Public Schools officials now worry that they may have to replace as many as half of their math and science teachers by 2010. The Department of Education predicts the country will need 2.2 million teachers in the next decade-almost half a million more than expected based on normal turnover. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found the median age of public and private school teachers to be over five years higher than the average for all workers. Meanwhile, enrollment is expected to increase almost 10 percent in the next 10 years.

IIT should train teachers once more, Guralnick’s group decided, but without offering a traditional bachelor’s degree program in education. Instead, future teachers would graduate with a minor in education and a major in their subject matter, taking many of the same courses as their classmates in science and engineering.

Ensuring a grounding in the subject

The result would be a corps of potential math and science teachers solidly grounded in their subjects. This approach may seem logical, but it remains rare. Over the last few decades, education departments at most colleges and universities have focused increasingly on learning theory and primary education, says Baker.

One of the things that happened is the colleges of education across the country became isolated. A wall grew up between the science and education departments. In some cases the education departments began teaching watered-down science and math courses on their own.

“What we have now is not working,” he says, adding that qualified math and science teachers are scarce in almost all school districts throughout the nation.

Paul Vallas, (then-head of Chicago Public Schools), Mayor Richard Daley and the state Board of Higher Education added their enthusiastic support for a new teacher education program, as did the principals of many local schools. The program will stick to its singular mission of preparing excellent math and science teachers for grades 6-12. IIT hopes to attract about 15-20 freshmen per year, along with another 20 students seeking master’s-level teacher certification. A doctorate in math or science education also will be offered this fall.

Those Who Can, Teach

Solid options for service-oriented students

For those engineering and science graduates who would like to use their talents for public service, IIT’s program will offer a teaching option without removing career choices. Prospective teachers are hard to find, since students who are educated in the sciences have the ability to command a higher salary than is ever offered in primary and secondary education. For this reason IIT’s program comes with a pair of financial carrots: Loan forgiveness may be available for some graduates, and the fact that a science or engineering degree carries better income potential than a bachelor’s in education.

As director of recruitment and substitute services for CPS, Xiomara Cortez Metcalfe has seen many recruits torn between the desire to serve and the need to earn. She calls IIT’s program ‘fabulous’ for its ability to open several career doors simultaneously. ‘The beauty is that you walk out with your degree in chemistry and you can also teach,’ Metcalfe says.

Partnerships grow future teachers in the community

In the public schools near IIT, the gaps in math and science teaching may be filled by graduates and interns from the new program. The university has been working for years to strengthen neighborhood schools: Vallas invited IIT to start a math and science center within Wendell Phillips Academy High School, and since 1989, community relations staff have provided teacher support and student enrichment under several grants.

The ultimate scenario runs like this: A teacher trained at IIT enters a neighborhood high school, inspiring students from the school to enter IIT, where some will decide to become teachers, return to their neighborhood schools, inspire other students, and so on in an upward spiral of university-community synergy.

“This may be the only technological university in the nation that has made this decision to grow its own, basically,” Baker says.

Unprecedented opportunity

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Yet most technological universities do not support colleges of education, expecting well-prepared freshmen but relying on others to provide the preparation.

Says Norman Lederman: ‘Engineering and science schools should always have been involved in educating math and science teachers, but for the most part, they haven’t. Wow, what an opportunity!’