Helping to Train 100,000 Math and Science Teachers, 10/10/11

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News Brief - 10/10/11

Online Degree Programs Helping Meet President Obama’s Challenge to Train 100,000 Math, Science Teachers in 10 Years

WGU awarded 223 scholarships to aspiring math and science teachers in 2010

SALT LAKE CITY — In a job market that is often seen as bleak for educators, math and science continue to stand out as bright spots. Highlighting the continued demand was President Obama’s challenge last year that the nation train 100,000 high-quality science, technology, engineering and math teachers in 10 years. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists math and science as two of the teaching disciplines that are most in-demand and likely to stay that way.

Western Governors University (WGU), www.wgu.edu, has more than 20 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in education, including master’s degrees for already-licensed teachers as well as programs that lead to licensure for new teachers. In the first six months of 2011, WGU awarded 219 degrees in math and science.

The online university offers a scholarship that helps hundreds of students return to school to earn their teaching degrees in math or science. The WGU Mathematics and Science Educators Scholarship, awarded to 223 in students 2010, covers $800 of WGU’s already-low tuition of $2,890 per six-month term. It’s good for up to five terms, making each scholarship worth as much as $4,000. The competitive scholarships are available both for individuals seeking initial licensure and those who are currently teaching in the field but need a master’s degree.

One student who is attending WGU thanks to the scholarship is Cindy Matthews of Russellville, Kentucky. When Matthews was offered a teaching position at a private school more than 15 years ago, she jumped at the opportunity, dropping out of college before finishing her degree and taking the job.

“I rushed into my future too fast,” she said. “The school closed and I was left without a degree.” Today, Matthews is back in school, on her way to earning a mathematics teaching degree online at WGU. “I’d like to finish what I started.”

For Matthews, her scholarship is giving her a head-start in her commitment to getting more books in her local classrooms as a teacher.

She is on track to do her demonstration teaching in January 2013. After earning her degree, she plans to become a public-school teacher in Russellville, where she has seen first-hand the resource struggles students and teachers face.

“My sons don’t have books,” she said. “They have to do their homework at school. There aren’t enough books to go around.”

Thanks to her scholarship, Matthews is financially comfortable keeping the core mathematics textbooks she’s using for her own studies, rather than selling them at the end of the term, so she can use them in her own classroom to benefit her future students.

“As a teacher, I want to have resources available to me,” she said.

Students who graduate from WGU’s Teachers College leave school highly prepared for success in the job market. WGU graduates regularly excel on national teacher exams: In 2010, more than 30 percent ranked in the top 15 percent nationally on the PRAXIS Elementary Education Exam.

WGU’s Teachers College was the first exclusively online provider of teacher education to earn accreditation from the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). It was that accreditation that helped Matthews decide to attend WGU, which was the only online school that met her needs and had the accreditations she would need to get a job after graduating.

WGU’s degree programs are online, with in-person demonstration teaching for students in the Teachers College. They stand out from most other programs in the competency-based learning model, by which students progress through their programs not by logging classroom hours but by proving they have mastered the competencies they need to succeed. That means that, if a student quickly grasps a concept or has a strong understanding of it from previous work or college experience, they can prove it by passing an assessment and moving on to the next course.

Tuition is charged at a flat rate per six-month term, not by course or credit hour, so in addition to being a time-saver, the acceleration made possible by WGU’s competency-based approach also saves students money.

But for students like Matthews, flexibility is key to why WGU is the best fit. She’s a mother; she has a day job; her family has a farm. She’s busy.

“I needed something I could work mostly on the weekends,” she said. There are times on the farm when working hay and caring for animals takes up almost all her time. “You don’t need to be missing classes for that."