By Monica Chapman
An Ohio University-led proposal aimed at recruiting and graduating science and math teachers in the Appalachian area is among 11 projects to receive funding in the second year of the Choose Ohio First Scholarship Program. This is the final year of the two-year, $100 million investment intended to strengthen Ohio's economy.
The Ohio Board of Regents allocated $1 million toward the project, Choose Appalachian Teaching: Building a Community of Mathematics and Science Teachers for Southeastern Ohio. Under the leadership of Ohio University, the project partners with Shawnee State University, Rio Grande University, Marietta College, Muskingum College and the five Ohio University regional campuses -- a consortium known as the South East Ohio Teacher Development Collaborative (SEOTDC). Currently, SEOTDC institutions prepare more than 75 percent of the mathematics and science teachers in Southeast Ohio.
"Funding is key today in this time of budget cuts and hiring freezes," said Assistant Professor of Science Education Danielle Dani, who was involved in the creation of the CAT proposal. "What this money allows us to do is bring in more students, help fill a needed gap in teaching in our region, and it helps us repurpose some of our existing resources to make this model possible. Hopefully, down the line, we'll be able to secure more funds to make this model more mainstream."
The CAT scholarship project seeks to produce 80 additional high school math and science teachers for Southeastern Ohio, which the proposal notes faces a critical teacher shortage. Preference will be given to first-generation Appalachian Ohio college students who want to teach seventh- through 12-grade math or science courses.
CAT will award 30 two-year scholarships, 10 three-year scholarships and 35 four-year scholarships for undergrads enrolled in the partner schools' programs. In addition, 20 two-year scholarships will be awarded to students enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and medicine (STEMM) programs at Ohio University's regional campuses who transfer to partner universities to pursue math or science teacher preparation.
Unlike traditional scholarship programs, CAT is a seven-year commitment. During the first year of the scholarship, students will work with freshman learning communities, peer mentors and student professional organizations to strengthen their ties to the field. After graduating, CAT scholars will take part in three years of additional mentoring from university faculty, during which the university will track the progress of teachers and their students on statewide assessment. In addition, CAT scholars, graduates and mentors will attend the annual CAT Research Symposium, a one-day conference focused on research relating to math and science education in rural areas.
"Wherever you are in the system, you're all part of this community to support math and science education in Southeast Ohio. That's the ultimate long-term goal," said Greg Foley, the CAT program director and Robert L. Morton Professor of Mathematics Education at Ohio University. "Over time we're trying to build this community that involves colleagues across higher education institutions."
According to the Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools, compared with the state as a whole, school districts in the Ohio Appalachian counties average nearly $450 less in per pupil expenditure while teachers receive an average of almost $4,500 less in annual pay. The result, said Foley, is that many high-caliber math and science teachers are tempted to leave Appalachian Ohio in order to teach for higher salaries in less economically stressed regions of the state.
To encourage teacher retention within the region, CAT scholarships will be partly based on the student's commitment to teach in Appalachian Ohio, which will be the theme of the application essay. CAT scholars also will be required to make a commitment to teach in Appalachian Ohio for a set amount of time.
The Ohio Core Curriculum adds additional strain to the current teacher shortage. The legislation, which will first affect the class of 2014, will require high school students to take more advanced math and science courses in order to graduate -- a law that Foley said will require additional STEMM teachers and additional course offerings.
To prepare incoming teachers for the coming changes, Foley said the CAT project will ramp up teacher preparation through a renewed focus on inquiry and STEMM literacy -- "really high-impact themes for the program that will create teachers who can reach a broader range of students."
The Choose Ohio First Scholarship program is the state's model for recruiting and retaining talented Ohio residents as students in STEMM and STEMM education fields. This is the second time that an Ohio University-led proposal has received funding through the program. In the first round of funding, $4.475 million was awarded to the Ohio Consortium for Bioinformatics for student scholarships.
According to Foley, the CAT project is the first major project operating under the SEOTDC, which formed about one year ago to coordinate teacher preparation and professional development across five colleges and universities in the Appalachian region.
"The CAT scholarship grant provides an impetus for focused innovations and enhancements to Ohio's AYA mathematics and science education programs, and it gives the project partners an opportunity to strengthen and extend existing collaborative structures," Foley said. "The funding enables Ohio University to lead in the development of a professional learning community of mathematics and science teachers throughout Appalachian Ohio."
In addition to SEOTDC, CAT also partners with the South East Ohio Center for Excellence in Mathematics and Science, the Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools, and Education Service Centers throughout Southeast Ohio. The Ohio University Council of Teachers of Mathematics (OUCTM) and the Ohio University Chapter of the National Science Teachers Association (OUNSTA) are also collaborating on the project.
Foley said the CAT program builds on Ohio University's existing Noyce scholarship program, funded by the National Science Foundation, to extend opportunities for students to serve Southeast Ohio.