Ohio University educator is instrumental in improving state math and science teaching
March 20, 2007
By Tom Bosco
The State of Ohio is not keeping pace with the technological demands of business today and must improve how it teaches mathematics and science. When it comes to that effort, Ohio University's Al Cote is part of the solution.
Cote is coordinator for the South East Ohio Center for Excellence in Mathematics and Science (SEOCEMS) and works with local school teachers and pupils. SEOCEMS is a collaboration between Ohio University, the University of Rio Grande, Rio Grande Community College and Shawnee State University.
Cote also sits on a commission that recently presented strategies and recommendations to the governor on how to strengthen Ohio's economy by improving math and science teaching, the Science and Mathematics Education Policy Advisory Council (SAMEPAC).
The council is made up of 23 educators, engineers, business leaders and parents and began its work in November of 2005. The panel considered how Ohio's economy is shaped by math and science teaching and came to the conclusion that Ohio graduates are not adequately prepared for the workplace. That translates into Ohio losing more young people between the ages of 20 and 34 than any other state except Pennsylvania because of a lack of economic opportunities.
SAMEPAC came up with five strategies for improving Ohio's economy by focusing on math and science. Among the recommendations are to institute a multiyear, public relations campaign on the importance of math and science; improve opportunities for students in poor rural or urban districts; and prepare and retain high-quality math and science teachers.
The final report was presented to the Ohio Board of Regents, the Department of Education and the governor last month. It now waits for their approval and adoption.
Cote sat down with Outlook to discuss aspects of the report and the Ohio's math and science challenges.
Outlook: On the final SAMEPAC document
Cote: I like the whole thing. I was really impressed. A lot of background was done to see what is happening in other states. If a certain program was effective there, could it be adopted here? But one thing we didn't do was just rubber stamp any program that was out there.
On the most important recommendation in SAMEPAC
All five strategies must be implemented to bring about ... change and growth. But if I must select one strategy my pick would be Strategy #5 [creation of the Institute for Mathematics and Science Education].
Ohio needs a means of unifying the multitude of mathematics and science initiatives across the state. School districts and educators are being bombarded with one program after another, by one agency after another..., I would like to see all these agencies and initiatives, all the human and financial resources become synergized.
On a public relations campaign promoting math and science
The first thing is to get everybody to see that the way to improve the economy in Ohio is to improve the quality of mathematics and science in the state. ... Not everybody sees the value of having a literate society in math or science. They only think of literacy in the area reading.
On the economic challenges facing the state
We don't have the infrastructure to retain those who are qualified. So if a business looks and says we want to develop here and we can't provide the workforce [it] needs, [it's] not going to settle in the state of Ohio. There are workers who aren't prepared to meet the needs of business in math and science. Universities are saying that a lot of their students have to take remedial courses in math and science.
On whether math and science teaching is off-track today
In the document we ... didn't want to focus on individual grades or classes. In fact the rigor of today's mathematics and science K-12 curriculum has greatly intensified over the last couple of decades. In Ohio, instructors are teaching concepts now in ninth grade that were college material before.
In the '50s, '60s and '70s, DNA was just being discovered. But now the kids hear about it all the time. There are major issues in the area of climate change and global warming. In order for citizens to act intelligently, to decide issues, they need to have that background and you don't get that background unless you have a strong foundation in math and science.
On recruiting and retaining stronger math and science teachers
We're asking, "What does it mean to have a highly qualified teacher in a classroom?" Depending on where you're located, it might be easy for you to do that or it might be harder. How do you get a highly qualified math teacher to work in a rural school or a poor school when they can go two miles down the road and get a higher rate of pay? Or get someone who has a degree in engineering to work in education? I know people who have come out of a career in engineering and have said, "I want to teach," but they couldn't afford to live on a teacher's salary. So they went back into their old careers.
On attitudes toward math and science
We still have a good number of teachers at the elementary level that have a phobia of mathematics. And if the teacher has a fear of mathematics, that attitude is going to be transferred to the kids.
In our society parents and educators, even businesspeople, executives and CEO's will say, "Oh, I was never good in math." It's almost like you don't have to be good in math; it doesn't matter. But you never hear anyone say, "I'm not good at reading," or "I'm not good at language arts." That's where that public relations initiative will come in to show that there is a value for math, there is a value for science.
Tom Bosco is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.