Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio can expect more than 450 highly trained math and science teachers over the next three years, thanks to The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, which will pay for the teachers' education.
Established shortly after World War II to help returning GIs change careers, the foundation has trained thousands of teachers in understaffed fields. Several years ago, the foundation decided to focus on training science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers—many of whom were making a career change.
Fellows complete an intensive graduate-school teaching program that is designed to tailor teachers' abilities to the environment they will be working in. Fellows are welcome to apply after completing an undergraduate degree in a math or science field, but their backgrounds are varied.
"There's a zookeeper, college professors, a lab chemist, a software engineer," says the foundation's president, Arthur Levine. "One guy holds 28 patents, and we have a surgical nurse." Hiring talented experts in the field and then training them to teach creates better teachers, he says.
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"Our teachers have gone on to succeed," Levine says. "We don't have the hard data yet—we'll have that within three years—but the kind of data we're getting now is from the principals, and their evaluations are extremely positive."
Katie Hughes, a Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow who is teaching at Frankfort High School in Frankfort, Ind., a small town an hour north of Indianapolis, says her graduate school classes at Purdue University helped her get ready to teach to a diverse population.
"We had classroom management classes where we would learn how [to] teach students who might not have mom and dad at home pushing them to do their homework," she says. "Some of these kids, they can't do their homework until they finish their chores on the farm. In my management classes I had to learn to cater my instruction to that."
The foundation works with universities to design each school's master's program. A program at Ball State University will differ from one at the University of Michigan or Ohio State University. Some programs will train teachers to teach in urban schools, others in rural schools.
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"We want a marriage between math, science, and education," says Levine. "These are clinically based programs with a focus on student learning. We want this to be a joint venture between school districts and universities."
This year's fellows in Michigan and Ohio will be those states' first; Indiana's first fellows entered graduate school in 2009. The foundation pays for fellows' graduate programs, and in return, they must work as teachers in the state for at least three years.
Funding comes from states' Race to the Top winnings, a federal program that provides funding to states that implement innovative education reform measures and whose students show improvement on standardized tests. Funding also comes from state governments, private donations, and endowments. Levine says he is in talks to expand the program to four new states in 2012, eventually implementing it in 8 to 10 states, which would then serve as models for neighboring states.