HHMI Gives $22 Million to National Teaching Training Network

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is giving $22.5 million to expand a network of universities that have adopted the same approach to training U.S. math and science teachers.

The award, to be highlighted at a White House ceremony this afternoon, is going to the Texas-based National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI). Formed in 2007 as a follow-up to a National Academies report that recommended a national effort to draw more science and math majors into teaching, NMSI has focused on scaling up a teacher preparation program developed at the University of Texas, Austin, called UTeach. The UTeach program, which began in 1997, is now being replicated at 35 universities that range from elite institutions such as the University of California, Berkeley, to lesser-known schools such as Columbus State University in Georgia.

Getting top research universities to embrace their role in training elementary and secondary school science and math teachers hasn't been easy, says Tom Luce, chair of NMSI and a former Education Department official under President George W. Bush. On Friday, Luce told the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology that most graduate deans are focused on preparing future Nobel Prize winners. "I realize that is important," he said, "but they also need to train the next generation of K-12 science teachers."

Early in his first term, President Barack Obama set a national goal of training 100,000 new science and math teachers by 2020 through a combination of funding from the government and private sources. Fueled by a $125 million pledge from the ExxonMobil Foundation and other contributions, NMSI is the poster child for such efforts.

One hallmark of the UTeach program is that students graduate with a science degree as well as a teaching certificate, giving them both mastery of the subject and the pedagogical skills to do well in the classroom. Universities in the NMSI network are now training 6200 students and to date have produced 1150 teachers. UTeach officials at the University of Texas, which is the largest program, say that more than 90% of their graduates go directly into teaching and that 80% are still in the profession after 5 years.

NMSI plans to use the HHMI money to hold a competition this year that will add 10 research-intensive universities to its network. The eligibility pool consists of some 100 research-intensive universities that HHMI is already funding. HHMI has spent $870 million over the past 25 years on various efforts to improve science education; last week, for example, it announced a new competition to select 15 HHMI professors in an ongoing program that gives faculty members $1 million over 5 years to train future scientific leaders and broaden participation in science.

"The fact that [UTeach] works, and has been up and running for some time, gives us confidence that it's an effective model," says Sean Carroll, vice president for science education at HHMI. Speaking about the NMSI grant, Carroll said "it's a departure from our usual pattern of grantsmaking in the sense that it's more targeted. We're taking a chunk of our limited resources to expand something underwritten and proven by others. But we think that there is definitely a need. We would have liked to invest more, and we hope that others will join us."