In face of shortage, California colleges to shrink time to become a math teacher

To entice more students to become math teachers — and ease a chronic shortage in California classrooms —  four state universities  will offer preparation programs considerably shortening the time it takes to get a teaching credential.

Cal State Los Angeles, San Jose State, San Diego State and Fresno State have each received state grants of approximately $250,000 to create credential programs that allow future math teachers to earn a bachelor’s degree while simultaneously earning a single-subject math teaching credential.

Once the programs are underway,  students will be able to get a credential in four years, instead of the average of 5 1/2 years it currently takes,

Currently to get a teaching credential, most teachers must first earn a four year undergraduate degree, and then enroll in a post-graduate program that can take an additional one to two years.  The new programs will eliminate the post-graduate portion, and integrate it into a student’s undergraduate course of study.

The shift is expected to produce nearly 100 new math teachers annually and save students at least $7,000 in tuition costs, said Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, assistant vice chancellor of teacher education and public school programs at California State University. The first students are expected to begin the program in 2018-19.

“This is going to significantly impact the teacher shortage in California,” Grenot-Scheyer said. “The investment in these programs will pay off not just for teacher candidates, but for students in California public schools.”

California is facing a shortfall of 33,000 new math and science teachers over the next decade, as science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) majors seek higher-paying jobs in the technology sector, older teachers retire and the demand for STEM education grows, according to California State University. A study by the Learning Policy Institute found that between 2011-12 and 2015-16, the number of fully credentialed new math teachers dropped by 36 percent, from 1,647 to 1,041,

As a result, more schools are hiring teachers without full credentials, or relying on substitutes to fill math classrooms. The number of temporary or emergency math credentials issued jumped more than 55 percent between 2011-12 and 2015-16, from 439 to 685, according to the Learning Policy Institute study.

To recruit math teachers, school districts have been offering incentives such as housing assistance, cash bonuses and student loan forgiveness. Using funds allotted by the state Legislature, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing has been giving grants to colleges and universities to create four-year, combination bachelor’s and credential programs, but most of those programs have been for multiple-subject, bilingual or special education credentials.

The $250,000 grants are a result of funds that Gov. Jerry Brown included in the state budget last year. Schools will use the money to free up faculty members to write the new undergraduate curriculum, and to produce marketing materials to attract students.

At Cal State Los Angeles, the new program, called SCOPE, will cover all the required courses for math majors, and include teaching courses instead of electives. It will also include some online and summer classes, allowing students to complete all the requirements for both the math major and teaching credential in four years.

But organizers hope it’ll spark something more important: a passion for teaching math.

“Math is so important, and so many of today’s generation say they don’t like math. To go into a classroom and impart your love of math to students — that is a huge accomplishment,” said Debasree Raychaudhuri, a math professor at Cal State Los Angeles who’s helping organize the Scope program. “By teaching math you can make such a difference.”

Still, schools like Cal State Los Angeles face tough odds in producing more math teachers. Of the school’s 28,000 students, only about 200 are math majors, and of those, fewer than 25 percent intend to become math teachers. The rest plan to work in technology, banking, research or pursue advanced degrees, Raychaudhuri said. Systemwide, only 5,167 students were majoring in math in 2016, just over 1 percent of the system’s 424,309 undergraduates.

The same is true at San Jose State, one of the other schools to establish a new fast-track math teacher program. Of the school’s 150 math majors, only about 50 are planning to become teachers. But by easing the credential process, organizer Cheryl Roddick hopes more students will be inspired to forsake Silicon Valley for the classroom.

After all, there’s more to life than toiling in an office park, she said.

“A lot of people go to these high-tech jobs and come back to us, saying they don’t want to work in a cubicle forever. They want to meet people, make a difference, give back to their communities,” said Roddick, a math professor. “They want to become teachers.”

And they’ll have no trouble finding jobs, she said.

“I get emails regularly from school districts looking for math teachers,” she said. “All our graduates get snapped up right away.”

California State University has taken other steps, as well, to help solve the STEM teacher shortage, such as offering scholarships for future math and science teachers, providing research opportunities with established scientists, and streamlining the transfer process from community colleges.

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