Teaching teachers to teach STEM [Commentary]

The solution to the shortage of workers for well-paying STEM jobs ("More jobs than workers," July 1) does not begin with students in college; it begins in elementary schools with well-trained teachers who are prepared to inspire students early on in these science, technology, engineering and math fields. The successful teacher will spark student interest and confidence in these areas by providing excellent instruction and hands-on application opportunities.

Towson University, with support from the Maryland State Department of Education, has launched the first program in the state that leads to an elementary STEM certification, preparing teachers with the special skills needed to introduce critical science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts into elementary classrooms.


Engaging programs must then be expanded to middle school and high school with increasing complexity and rigor. This requires teachers at all levels to have a deep knowledge of their subject areas. They must be able to explain concepts in multiple ways and design innovative lessons that build understanding and application of knowledge.

Towson University was the first university in Maryland to adopt the nationally recognized UTeach model for preparing STEM teachers, a move that was funded in 2012 by a $1.9 million grant. (The University of Maryland in February announced plans to also implement UTeach.) The teaching model, which began at the University of Texas at Austin in 1997 and has been replicated at roughly 40 universities nationwide, has demonstrated substantial success in preparing teachers in the STEM fields, and is projected to produce about 8,300 graduates by the year 2020.


Ninety percent of UTeach graduates enter the teaching profession, and 80 percent remain five years later. Compare that to statistics from the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, which show that just 54 percent of new teachers remain on the job for five years.

Towson University is excited to adopt the UTeach program, which provides science and mathematics students the opportunity to experience teaching as early as their first semester at the university. The result is to accelerate the number of potential teachers with extensive expertise in these subject areas and to subsequently populate our public school faculties. We need all sectors, especially our business partners, to support this powerful initiative so that we can increase the number of individuals who will be well prepared to teach the next generation of their workers. With their support, these businesses can look forward to hiring Marylanders instead of foreign workers to fill the gap.

We also applaud the College Board for working collaboratively in this area with Towson University to improve teacher expertise in the delivery of Advanced Placement (AP) courses in mathematics and science. Teachers spend a week at Towson in the summer and then collaborate all year to hone their skills and improve their ability to deliver the AP curriculum effectively. In addition, also through funding from the College Board, high school students will have summer opportunities to build their skills in mathematics prior to beginning their AP course and will receive support during the school year. This program helps to ensure students will be prepared for high-level performance when they return to school. Towson is also beginning a certification program for teachers in preparation so that they possess the skills to teach AP courses as they begin their teaching careers. This is the first and only program in the country modeling this unique partnership with the College Board.

It is gratifying to reflect on how these programs create a sustainable solution because they have a multiplier effect for the future. More effective teachers result in better-prepared students year after year. Some of these students will fill the currently vacant jobs, and others will become the well-prepared teachers of the future. Either way, Maryland wins.

Nancy S. Grasmick is a presidential scholar at Towson University and a former Maryland superintendent of schools. Her email is

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