Monteagudo (1995) describes the professional development programs offered by the Teachers Academy of Math and Science:
Retooling the Education Workforce
But they'll never reach that lofty status if our teachers aren't equipped to take them there.
The Teachers Academy for Mathematics and Science is closing the gap between what students need to know and what teachers need to teach.
The Academy dispels the notion that all teachers enter the classroom with the same knowledge and skills, and that once trained, teachers need little enhancement or additional knowledge.
In reality, many teachers fall below the minimum baseline standard for math and science. According to the National Research Council, many teachers' education includes only one course in mathematics. In science, fewer than 30 percent of elementary teachers have taken college-level science courses within the past five years.
So while both state and federal governments properly demand that teachers change their instructional practices, they have underestimated the extent to which teachers need to retool. To meet those new standards, teachers need to expand their basic understanding of math and science and acquire new skills and teaching techniques.
Successful businesses remain competitive because they invest time and money in the professional development of their employees, updating their skills to meet the demands of an ever-changing marketplace. Many businesses spend up to 7 percent of their annual budgets to keep their workforce competitive. By contrast, the Chicago Board of Education currently spends about 0.65 percent of its budget on professional development. This has to change.
The Teachers Academy does not believe in quick-fixes. Education reform does not happen after a two- or three-day workshop.
Schools make a three-year commitment when they join the Academy. Teachers enter an intensive professional development program that involves instruction and coaching in an informal classroom setting. The program includes 18 months of math instruction and support, and 18 months of science. Then Academy staff follow teachers back to school, helping them employ their new skills in the classroom.
The Academy's science program draws on the emerging national standards to introduce teachers to a variety of curricula. They explore broad-based concepts that include: scale, change, systems, cause and effect, and diversity through such topics as ecosystems, photosynthesis, force and motion, adaptation and the interdependence of life.
The mathematics program allows teachers to revisit and expand their knowledge of math, while examining concepts in greater detail and exploring the integration of math with other subjects. Based on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the program covers number theory, geometry, measurement, data collection, problem solving, probability and statistics, and algebraic concepts. Both the math and science programs integrate the use of technology.
The Academy's professional development framework centers on four basic areas of proficiency: attitude, knowledge, skills, and pedagogy.
First, teachers retool to reach the minimum baseline standards. Then they enhance their skills in a pursuit of mastery that leads to a lifetime of continuous improvement and innovation.
Retooling allows teachers to explore concepts and learn content through cooperative learning and hands-on, inquiry-based activities they can take back to the classroom. It provides them with the understanding and learning to connect their classroom study of science and math to national and state standards.
Teachers support these ideas. The 1993 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education found that while nearly all teachers believe in hands-on science instruction and cooperative learning, most still rely on textbooks and lectures. More than 60 percent of high school science classes never take field trips, and 54 percent never use computers, the survey found. Even teachers who support these classroom reforms feel less confident about their ability to employ them in their classroom.
After retooling, teachers have an expanded base of knowledge and a better understanding of the National Education Goals. During the Academy's enhancement phase, they pursue subjects in greater depth, while applying their new approaches in the classroom.
At each level of professional development, Academy staff pay close attention to the individual needs of teachers and the organizational supports needed back at the school. Principals, parents, and other members of the school community are involved from the start so that a school's resources can be focused at all levels.
The Teachers Academy requires a commitment from 70 percent of a school's teachers, as well as unified support from the principal and administrators before professional development can begin.
This schoolwide commitment gives teachers a shared sense of direction, all too rare in a professional marked by isolation. The consistency of the whole-school approach is crucial as children go from teacher to teacher, year after year.
Recent independent evaluations have demonstrated the effectiveness of the Academy framework.
Chicago public school children scored substantially higher on the Illinois Goals Assessment Test after their teachers took part in the Teachers Academy's professional development programs, according to an evaluation conducted by Brigitte Erbe, director of the graduate research center at Roosevelt University.
Sixth-grade students from 11 Academy schools that began in 1991 scored an average of 44 points higher on tests in 1993 than they did as third-graders in 1990. Academy students scored an average of 33 points higher than other sixth-graders in the Chicago system.
An additional six schools entered the Academy in the spring of 1992. The 17 schools combined showed a gain of 39 points. By comparison, other Chicago schools gained only 11 points.
In another study conducted by Dr. Philip Wagreich of the University of Illinois, Chicago, fourth- and seventh-graders in Academy-participating schools also outperformed other Chicago schools on the experimental items of the Illinois Goals Assessment Test in science.
Professional development is hard work. It takes tremendous time, energy and, of course, money. But perhaps most important is the commitment required of all stakeholders: students, teachers, administrations, parents, community members, and business and political leaders.
The ultimate goal is a better education for our children. Improved science and math performance is not an end in itself. But these subjects provide an excellent means for producing children who can think critically, speak persuasively, and solve problems in a very real and complicated world." (p. 2-3)