Seriously, I am pleased to be here at a meeting that brings together
both industry and academia and to have the opportunity to talk to you about
a few issues that I believe are of critical importance. During these
unprecedented, or as some here today have called it “crisis,” times in
the discipline’s foundational corporate sector, one can also find important
opportunities. This is especially true if we keep in mind that crisis
is just the Greek word for decision. There are some decisions that,
if we make them collectively, will improve substantially our common professional
This country has always had an educational agenda. In true Jeffersonian tradition, education for the masses continues to be our great national experiment. Today, this initiative continues with heightened and largely non-partisan support. Educational efforts of a number of professional organizations have dramatically intensified as they work to support and promote their discipline’s concerns and interests. In recent years, we see how many of our professional geoscience organizations established, or expanded, their educational offices and activities.
Approximately a decade ago, science and educational organizations began developing and promoting a range of instructional reform efforts. These efforts, incorporating terms such as benchmarks, frameworks, or standards, had the intent of setting forth what pre-college students should know about the various science disciplines. In order to bring some coherence to this well-intentioned, but increasingly voluminous, overlapping and, at times, contradictory series of recommendations, the National Academy of Sciences, through its working arm the National Research Council, developed the National Science Education Standards. Released in 1996, NRC’s work represents an extensive, a multi-year, effort involving hundreds of scientists and educators at all levels of instruction. The Standards set forth fundamental content understandings, teaching strategies, professional development requirements and system support necessary to deliver high quality science to all students.
It is not a trivial task to determine what students, at any level, should know and be able to do in an area of study. It is also somewhat daunting to garner broad professional and public support for specific standards among hundreds of science and educational organizations for specific standards. Yet, consensus among these diverse groups was accomplished. By most assessments, the Standards have been successful in projecting the vision and principles for science education, and they are having a huge impact on science reform efforts.
In the National Science Standards, we find not only geoscientists, but
physicists, chemists and life scientists calling for a strong, noticeable,
and fully equal presence of earth science in the curriculum. Increased
attention to earth science is, in part, being spurred on by a greater focus
on the usefulness of science as well as recognition that earth science
contributes significantly to many issue and event-based concerns, such
as resource utilization, land management and natural disasters. Colleagues
in other areas of natural science also recognize how earth science provides
important context and meaning for acquiring fundamental understandings
in the life sciences and other areas of physical science.
The Standards identify content understandings at three grade levels; K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. At each of these levels, earth science is identified as a major content standard. Each of the identified areas of content understanding has extensive supporting narrative. There is also a great deal of earth science embedded in other major areas of the Standards, particularly Science in Personal and Social Perspectives - the standard dealing with population growth, natural resources, environmental quality and natural human induced hazards.
As a result of the Standards we have, for the first time in this nation’s history, a call from the highest levels of our science and educational establishments for earth science to take its place with physical and life science. This national objective is belated, but welcomed, and provides us with an opportunity that we must collectively support and sustain.
More recent, 1998, data on numbers of science teachers, show a drop
in virtually all areas of science instruction. Conversation with those
at NSTA responsible for this data set suggests that this decline is due,
in part, to a general trend of lower survey returns. The more difficult
assessment to make is the extent to which these lower numbers represent
the projected shortage of science teachers. Nevertheless, the numbers
highlight the fact that there are more teachers teaching earth science
than teachers teaching chemistry, and almost twice as many teachers teaching
earth science than teachers teaching physics. Only biology has a
greater number of teachers. One significant difference is that chemistry
and physics have a far greater number of teachers with degrees and certification
in those fields. Earth science has long suffered from an availability of
teachers with degrees and certification in geoscience. It is well
known that teachers teaching within their certification areas tend to be
more professionally active in their science and science education organizations.
The good news is, we have a large group of earth science teachers.
The bad news is, a large percentage of them do not have degrees in the
discipline, and they are not as well organized, professionally involved,
represented, or supported, as their science counterparts.
One final thought on numbers. The pre-college teaching corps is estimated at slightly over 2 million teachers. As the NSTA numbers are drawn from only 750,000 teachers, these numbers may represent only one-third of the total number of earth science teachers. Whether actual numbers are above, or below, a particular figure may not be all that important. What is significant, is that this pre-college group is tens of times larger than the entire number of college and university geoscience faculty. This is particularly noteworthy when one considers that it is in the pre-college arena that the vast number of citizens receive their first exposure, sense of importance, and hopeful enthusiasm for the earth sciences.
During the past decade we have seen a noticeable increase in the number of content hours required for secondary science certification. Spurred on by national commission findings that show teacher knowledge of subject matter is an all-important element in teacher effectiveness, the median number of credits for certification has risen from 24, in 1987, to 32 in 1997. Increased emphasis on science content can also be seen in the large NSF Collaboratives for Excellence in Teacher Preparation Program. Narrative description in the program announcement has recently been changed to read:
“ Collaboratives derive from the leadership and participation of faculty members in science, mathematics, and engineering departments, in concert with colleagues in education departments…” and, “…priorities of the program are the need to attract SMET (science, mathematics, engineering, technology) majors into the teaching profession…”
Last year, Rita Colwell, Director of the National Science Foundation stated:
“We cannot expect the task of science and math education to be the responsibility solely of K-12 teachers while scientists, engineers, and graduate students remain busy in their universities and laboratories. There is no group of people that should feel more responsible for science and math education in this nation than our scientists and engineers and scientists-and engineers-to be."
Recognizing that knowledge of subject matter is an all-important element in teacher effectiveness, the Foundation’s central strategy is one of recruiting and preparing able science majors for classroom teaching. One of the first programs the Director established at the National Science Foundation is a 7.5 million-dollar initiative to train graduate and undergraduate students to serve as teaching fellows in K-12 science classrooms.
As national and professional interest in teaching strengthens, so too are college students expressing a greater interest in teaching. The American Council of Education reports that more than 10% of entering college freshmen indicate that they are interested in going into elementary or secondary education. This is the highest expressed interest level in two decades and is the reason why many widely read national newspapers are carrying stories about how teaching is bouncing back.
Another successful program that illustrates well how reform can sometimes be best accomplished outside the established structure is Teach for America. Ten years ago, a student proposed the idea of a national teacher corps in her senior thesis at Princeton University. To her, the idea was simple. Why not get the country’s best minds to commit two years to teach in urban and rural public schools? It would change the lives of some of the nation’s most under-served students and would change the consciousness and direction of our nation’s future leaders. With support of a small seed grant from Mobil Corporation, the program has now expanded to where a thousand students a year are teaching in 13 geographic area across the country. The vast number of these students have discipline-based degrees and have not been enrolled in teacher education programs. Once accepted, corps members complete independent work which includes classroom observations of experienced teachers and participation in a summer, five-week, national training institute in Houston, Texas. Upon completion of the institute, they attend a one to two-week orientation in the schools and communities where they will teach. School districts hire corps members at regular teacher salaries through the states’ alternative certification arrangements. During the instructional year there is critical feedback and professional development opportunities provided. Outside evaluations, including feedback from students, parents, and school administrators show that these teachers possess a great deal of content competency, innovation, and motivation. By all assessments they're doing a superb job and having tremendous impact on teaching and learning.
It is significant that even some of the established institutions for teacher preparation are recognizing this alternative pathway to the profession. Arthur Levine, President of Teachers College of Columbia, one of the nation’s oldest and prestigious colleges of education, writes:
Teach For America has made some very large contributions. It has made teaching appealing to a generation of young people who have not traditionally chosen teaching as a career. So it is attracting a splendid group of young people to the profession. It also offers a bold and different vision of how to prepare teachers…Teach for America will significantly influence the direction teacher preparation takes in America in the years ahead. It is an historically important program.
The list of institutions providing the largest number of applicants to the program is an impressive roster of some of the finest colleges and universities in the nation. (fig.2) Over two hundred corporations and foundations, (many representing the oil and gas and mineral industry) contribute to this program. The purpose of highlighting this program is that it illustrates well the interest that high ability students have in going into teaching, the alternative teacher certification pathways that are available today and the broad-based support for such initiatives.
How can the geoscience community respond to both interest and need?
What can we do, within our programs, to encourage and support more of our best and brightest to consider pre-college teaching?
There are aspects of the Teach for America program that have important implications for the geoscienece community and for what could be done to develop a stronger, more visible and effective national earth science program.
It is an opportune time to establish, within undergraduate geoscience
programs, a track that will lead to teacher certification. It would be
beneficial for both science students and science faculty to develop further
their understanding of the issues involved in learning and the transfer
of knowledge. Education’s unique contribution lies in understanding the
mental operations that underlie learning and the processes associated with
knowledge acquisition. What students show, and why do they show,
enhanced development of cognitive faculties when presented with a particular
mode of learning? If knowledge acquisition and transfer is the core business
of the world today, it is these fundamental questions of content and learning
that should attract faculty attention and concern. In turn, it terms of
interest and enrollment, it would be hugely beneficial for education faculty
to open up their knowledge base of teaching and learning to a broader and
The Chief Executive Officer of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, David G. Imig, has stated: “Any weaknesses in teacher training, cannot be blamed solely on colleges of education. It’s an all-campus responsibility.” We have then a need and invitation; we should not let this opportunity go by.
Faculty, particularly in terms of career choice and professional direction, have enormous influence on students. As has been shown, many students are interested in teaching. If a science faculty member encourages one of their bright, enthusiastic, majors to consider teaching, chances are quite favorable that the student will fully consider that possibility. Unfortunately, in many colleges and universities, and in particular the large, prestigious, AAU Research Institutions, students find that in order to enroll in the science education program they have to drop their science major. As you might imagine, most of these students are understandably unwilling to drop their major. This is a pointless requisite. It is probably less a result of an orchestrated protectionist attitude, but more a result of program perpetuation and continuance of that which has always been; institutions are superb guardians of the steady state. The task before us is to develop programs that will enable geoscience students to maintain their full geoscience major while having an opportunity to obtain course and field experience that leads to teacher certification. Accomplishing this is good for education and good for science.
Although program requirements vary from institution to institution,
must undergraduate programs have distributive, or elective study areas
where, with a little bit of planning, many of the desired education courses
can be placed. Recently, the National Science Foundation’s Division
of Undergraduate Education made an award to a proposal that brings geology
and education faculty together for the purposes of developing and implementing
a credential oriented program for geoscience majors. The intent of
this award is to establish representative programs at four institutions
that could be adopted, or adapted, by geoscience departments throughout
the country. A series of presentations describing these programs
are scheduled for both AGU and GSA national and regional meetings. Need
and interest has now led to implementation models.