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Remarks to the Board of Regents

This is the prepared script for the speech, not an exact transcript of President Allen's remarks. Unscripted comments during the speech may not be reflected in this copy.
Board of Regents Meeting
University of Iowa - Union

Regents Math and Science Initiative

May 1, 2007

Thank you, President Gartner, and members of the Board of Regents, for permitting me to spend a few minutes to present an update on the Board of Regents’ Mathematics and Science Collaborative Initiative.

This afternoon, I will briefly describe the rationale, goals, key issues, status report, and the next steps of this Regents’ initiative.

My colleagues at the University of Northern Iowa and I are pleased to spearhead this collaborative effort between the three Regent universities and other key players in the state.   

Rationale for Initiative

The rationale for this Board of Regents Mathematics and Science Collaborative initiative is very compelling.  Some of the factors that clearly indicate both the significance and urgency of the issue are listed on our brief handout.

On a state and national level, the current performance of our students now in the pre-K through 12 system, and quite honestly, in higher education, is not where it needs to be; and evidence suggests that we are losing ground in international comparisons.

Nationally, about one-third of the 4th graders and one-fifth of the 8th graders lack the competence to perform even basic mathematical computations.

In science, only one-third of 4th and 8th graders scored at the proficiency level and nearly one-half of the high school seniors did not reach the basic level of competence.

The report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” published by the National Academy of Science, highlights that one of the four high-priority actions that must be taken for the U.S. to remain competitive in a global economy is to improve pre-K through12 science and mathematics education.

This same report notes that of the 20 fastest-growing occupations of the 21st century, 15 require substantial mathematics and science preparation.

  • In the State of Iowa, the three industry sectors of Iowa’s new economy, bioscience, advanced manufacturing, and information solutions, all require substantial mathematics and science preparation and the foundation of those skills is built during the pre-K through 12 years.

This is a work force development issue.

The final major piece of this picture of crisis is the current and growing shortage of qualified pre-K through12 math and science teachers.

In this academic year, Iowa is short 173 teachers in science and 121 teachers in mathematics, according to a report from the State Department of Education.  Finding qualified people to teach high school physics is nearly impossible.

The report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” also projects that by 2015, we will see a shortage of 283,000 highly-qualified math and science teachers for pre-K through 12, with the shortage being more pronounced in rural, low-income, and urban areas.

Many of the math and science teachers in Iowa are likely to retire in the next five to ten years.  Nationally, 200,000 math and science teachers are expected to retire within the next decade.

Goals of Initiative

Working with a number of stakeholders, including the Board of Regents’ staff, three major goals for this initiative were identified.

  1. To improve mathematics and science performance of Iowa students

    • I have already alluded to some of the performance information clearly indicating the importance of this goal.

    • What I did not highlight is that on average, our students’ performances in math and science do not compare favorably with the performances of students in other industrialized countries.
      (It is on average that we don’t compare well.  The brightest of U. S. students continue to outscore their peers in all other countries.)

  2. To prepare more high quality mathematics and science teachers for Iowa’s schools

    • Studies indicate that the quality of the teacher and the classroom teaching is the most important factor in student learning in math and science.

    • The current and predicted shortages of teachers were noted earlier.

      • It is a fact that rural school districts face even more substantive challenges in recruiting and retaining math and science teachers.

      • Part of the problem is that many students are being taught math and science by teachers not prepared to teach in those subjects.

      • Nationally in the year 2000, 93% of students in grades 5-9 were taught physical science by a teacher lacking a major or certification in “physical science.”

      • Nationally, more than half of all 8th grade students receive math instruction from a teacher who does not hold a degree or certification in mathematics.

    • Labor market conditions will make it very challenging to increase the pipeline of pre-K through 12 math and science teachers

      • We need to pay our teachers of mathematics and science more—I applaud the Governor’s leadership and the legislators in making the salaries of teachers in Iowa more competitive

  3. To bridge the gap between pre-K through 12, the community colleges, and the Regents universities

    • We need to fully understand the math and science related challenges and opportunities faced by pre-K through12 school districts and AEAs.

      • Need to reduce the differences between the entry expectations of universities and the exit standards for high school graduates; as well as the differences between the exit standards for community colleges and entry standards for universities.

    • We need to better understand and appreciate the work and curricula of the Community Colleges in the area of teacher prep so we can make the transition for the students from community college to regents’ institutions as seamless as possible.

We undertake this Regents’ Initiative with a number of guiding principles and premises.

Included among them are:

  • To most effectively address this issue, the three universities must work in a collaborative and coordinated manner.

    • Each of the universities has dedicated faculty working in this area and each has outstanding programs in the area of math and science.  To a large extent, the strengths and orientations of the programs of the three universities complement each other.

  • Strategies for meeting these goals need to be based on building sustainable learning connections that are pre-K through 16.

    • The first challenge is to develop a trust with the different constituents to emphasize that we are committed to a collaborative long-term effort.

  • Because of the numerous programs that already exist in this area, we do not want to duplicate existing programs, but rather, complement and supplement those programs—not only at the three Regents universities but anywhere else in the State.

  • The universities will have to involve many of their other colleges in addition to their Colleges of Education to fully address this issue.

  • Evaluation and assessment of strategies and programs associated with this Regents’ initiative must be undertaken (intervention protocols).

    • For example, set performance indicators for the increase in the number of highly qualified teachers coming out of the Regents’ universities.

    • In addition, we can assess and review proficiency scores:  Are students improving academically?

    • Assess the impact of professional development programs for educators?

Status Report

At UNI we are moving forward and planning for the collaborative effort.

  • We have identified an internal working group to serve as a resource for this initiative.

  • This internal group is led by Jeff Weld, Professor of Biology in the College of Natural Science—the other members come from the College of Education, including the Price Lab School.

  • On April 11, I held a Town Hall meeting to make sure the university community understood the commitment we have made to provide leadership on this collaborative effort—more than 200 faculty and staff attended.

We have had meetings with both ISU and U of I.

  • I joined a group of our faculty and administrators, including Provost Lubker, in meetings at Iowa State University on April 4th, and at the University of Iowa on April 5.

  • I want to express my appreciation to Presidents Geoffroy and Fethke and Provosts Hoffman and Hogan and Associate Provost Rocklin for helping to arrange these meetings.

In addition, the internal working group and I met with Judy Jeffrey, Director, State Department of Education, on April 6, to discuss the initiative and how we might work most effectively with her office and with her initiatives in this area.

Two other discussions developed from this initiative.

One was with Cheryl Achterburg, Dean of the College of Human Science at ISU.  She brought to my attention a program funded by Exxon-Mobil and other corporations that would provide a great opportunity for the three universities to collaborate for the State of Iowa to qualify.

The other discussion was with Tom Hobson, Senior Manager, Government and Public Affairs at Rockwell Collins, and Ron Fielder, Chief Administrator of Grant Wood AEA, where we discussed how this Regents’ initiative might work more closely with their exciting work in the Iowa City—Cedar Rapids corridor.

We have made some progress, but we are only at the beginning of a long-term commitment to make a difference in the area of math and science education in pre-K through 12. 

Next Steps

The basic next steps are outlined on the handout.

  • We will form a working, steering committee of six or nine—the smallest number possible in the context of universities.

  • We will systematically seek input and advice from all the relevant stakeholders very early in the process.

    • Community colleges, superintendents, principals, teachers, students, Area Education Agencies, Iowa Department of Education, Iowa State Education Association.

    • Conduct a limited number of meetings across the state to listen to those on the front lines and to the end-users of the product of the system—employers.

  • Identify the best practices from other states—conduct a benchmarking study.

  • Determine resource needs and strategies for obtaining funds—based upon the program or programs that we undertake.

  • Set measurable goals

Final Observation

My colleagues at UNI and I look forward to leading this very important collaborative initiative with the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.  We are pleased to work with partners across the state, including the various sectors of education, business, and industry.