15 Ways to Support Math and Science Education

List courtesy of the National Math and Science Initiative.

(I’ve highlighted in red the items that I especially agree with or am trying/will try to implement for my own students)

  1. Think and speak positively about math and science. Never again say to your child, “I wasn’t good in math either. Math is hard.” Rather say, “Learning math is critical for everyone today. I sure wish I had studied it more.” Encouragement and praise can be the first steps toward success.
  2. Pay attention to math and science teaching in your child’s school. Have you reviewed your child’s science or math homework lately? Are assignments or projects creative and tied to real-life situations or your child’s interests? Ask the PTO to schedule a presentation by the math and science departments at your child’s school so that you can better understand what’s being taught – and school leaders will see that parents expect quality.
  3. Support more modern lab equipment in local schools. Does the equipment in your child’s science lab look like what you used when you were in school? Times have changed and many school labs need to be updated. Do you belong to a club, or another type of organization that might help raise funds for more supplies and better equipment at your school?
  4. Stand up for algebra. Does your child’s school offer 8th grade algebra? If not, speak up to your school leaders and school board. Algebra is the gateway class that enables all students, no matter what their fields of interest, to move forward in school and college. If you don’t feel comfortable going to school leadership and/or the school board alone, you can see if other parents agree. Are there other parents like you who would support either signing a letter or going with you to a PTO meeting to try to enlist support from other parents?
  5. Become an advocate for Advanced Placement* Program courses that give students strong preparation for college work. Find out if your child’s high school offers Advanced Placement courses in math and science. If not, see if other parents would also want more information on these rigorous courses. Together you can show that parents are interested in having their children participate in AP courses. If the school already offers AP courses, find out how hard it is for students to get into the advanced classes. Advocate for a system that registers students for advanced classes unless their parents opt them out. You also should check and ensure that they are offered at non-conflicting times so students won’t miss out on helpful classes.
  6. Encourage your school leaders to provide incentives for students to successfully complete AP exams. Better yet, you can become a donor yourself – or recruit donors to defray the cost of taking exams and provide financial incentives for students to pass the exams. Do you have contacts with corporations that appreciate the need for a math-literate workforce? Do you have ties to sororities, fraternities or faith-based organizations? Look for people you know who might be willing to partner with the school to provide incentives for students who are taking rigorous AP courses. Might they also be willing to provide incentives for the teachers involved who are doing so much additional work with the students in the AP courses?
  7. Offer to mentor students in local schools who may be struggling or want to do advanced work. Recruit others to help. Is your service organization, professional group, or faith-based organization involved with your school? If not, are you willing to ask for their participation? Education ministries and service organizations can be a great source of support from retirees and others who might be willing to assist with tutoring/mentoring/grant writing.
  8. Encourage more colleges and universities to provide math and science recruitment programs for high school students. If you are a member of a civic or service organization, you could encourage the group to help organize a summer instititute for middle and high school students in math and science at a local university or college. Or, urge the university or college that you attended to reach out to high school students with special math and science programs.
  9. Volunteer to help organize a science fair if your middle school does not have one. Get the parents who are in science, health, engineering and computer fields to serve one afternoon as judges. Get local businesses to offer prizes.
  10. Rally local business support for math and science careers. Encourage your employer or chamber of commerce to form a partnership with a local school to support students who are interested in careers in math, science, computer science, and engineering. Summer internships and scholarships can make young dreams come true.
  11. Encourage more college students in math and science to become teachers. Find out what your local colleges and universities are doing to graduate more qualified math and science teachers. Are there programs in place to encourage more math and science majors to become teachers? Would a teacher training program such as UTeach be feasible there?
  12. Encourage foundations in your area to provide greater support for math and science education. Is there an organization in your community that might be interested in helping with funds for new textbooks, school supplies, lab equipment, scholarships for math and science? You should give them a nudge.
  13. Support more opportunities for girls and women in math and science. Find out if your school district offers the option of single-sex public schools. If not, encourage your school to look at the success of schools like Austin, Texas. Experience has shown that female students perform better at math and science in single-gender schools. Or, you can help more women pursue math and science careers in college by encouraging the creation of more scholarships for female students to enter those fields. Do you know any women’s service groups and foundations that might be helpful? Although more than half the students in medical schools today are women, the percentages of women in schools of engineering and most other sciences is still low.  You can help by providing a grant through a local foundation, non-profit or university that will help pay for childcare help for female graduate students and post-docs.
  14. Support more opportunities for underrepresented groups in math and science. Hispanic and African-American students are still under-represented in AP courses and in math and science classes in college. In 2000, only 4.4 percent of the science and engineering jobs in the United States were held by African Americans and only 3.4 percent by Hispanics. More minority participation is needed to provide the infusion of talent that our country will need in these critically important fields. You can help by supporting grants, scholarships, summer programs, and internships that bring more diverse students into math and science study.
  15. Urge your representatives in Congress to fund the America COMPETES legislation. The legislation was overwhelmingly passed by Congress in 2007, but has not yet been funded. The legislation cannot make a difference without funding.

The State of Wisconsin and Texas: Please Pray

Undoubtedly by now you have heard about the unrest in the state of Wisconsin over a proposed bill to scrap the union rights of public workers, including teachers. If you haven’t heard, you can follow the link. Here is a small clip from the article courtesy of FoxNews.com (emphasis added):

As many as 70,000 people were expected to attend the dueling rallies Saturday in the wake of a budget showdown that has captured national attention and paralyzed the state.

As many as 40,000 people, including teachers, students, firefighters and prison guards, swarmed the Capitol on Friday, raising the noise in its rotunda to earsplitting levels.

The crowds have been loud but peaceful. Police reported just nine citations for minor offenses as of Friday. Schools throughout the state have closed this week after teachers called in sick, including in the state’s largest district, in Milwaukee.

I have no real set opinion on teacher unions. This is mostly because I teach in Texas where there is no teacher union so I have no personal experience being a part of one. I finally got around to watching Waiting for Superman, a documentary critical of teacher unions; going so far as to portray them as the cause of the educational slump in America. This may or may not be the case. While the film raised some good points it may have overstepped its bounds in some other areas. You can read an appropriate review of the film here.

Whatever your opinion of teachers unions, these demonstrations in Wisconsin seem a bit uncouth. Teachers calling in sick to protest and shutting down schools due to lack of available personnel seems equivalent to holding students hostage in order to make a point. Maybe the teachers protesting feel they are really helping students in the long run by taking this stand, but I don’t think they can argue that they are doing anything but hurting the students now.

I firmly believe that if you are following God’s calling for your life, it will most likely involve the forgoing of certain “rights” for the benefit of others. I also believe this is especially true in teaching. While I do not grasp all the details that have brought these protests about, it does seem like these teachers could have handled the situation in a more respectful manner.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

1 Peter 2:13-17

Now to take my own advice.

Turning our eyes back to the Lonestar State, we don’t see a much prettier picture. Though Texas has not come to protesting on the level of Wisconsin, there are some tough times ahead for public education. In a nutshell:

The Texas Comptroller released her revenue estimate for the 2011-2013 biennium. The state will have at least a $15 billion deficit for the next two years. Some experts predict the deficit could be as much as $27 billion. The state’s budget deficit will filter down to state supported institutions like higher education, health and human services and public education. Public education comprises 44% of the state’s budget.

In other words, to meet budget constraints the state of Texas will be cutting from education for the first time ever. At the same time they cut funding, they will be raising the standards students are required to meet as the state revamps its standardized testing. Here is what this amounts to:

  1. Some good teachers may lose their job simply due to budget constraints and not their performance in the classroom.
  2. Districts definitely don’t want to lose good teachers and they will cut as much from their budgets as possible before losing staff.
  3. This means that while many will indeed keep their jobs, their workload will increase to make up for budget cuts elsewhere.
  4. What few new hires there are will most likely be new and inexperienced teachers because they are cheaper.
  5. All the while a watching public will be expecting continued gains in student education.

If the states of Wisconsin and Texas show us anything at the moment it is this: we desperately need prayer for our schools.

Please pray for the people in government to make wise decisions when it comes to what is best for our students, their education, and their future.

Please pray for the teachers who continue to stand up in front of classrooms full of students day after day in the midst of this uncertainty. Pray that we would embody 1 Peter 2:13-17 even when we don’t feel like it.