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Science Teacher Preparation in an Era of Standards-Based Reform INTRODUCTION Faculty members at postsecondary institutions face an unprecedented opportunity to have a significant impact on K-12 education reform through their efforts to recruit and prepare prospective teachers. An aging teaching work force, projected enrollment increases, and attrition among new teachers mean that K-12 schools will need to hire two million teachers in the next decade (National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future, 1996). Teachers who possess both pedagogical skills and knowledge of science are vital to students’ attaining science literacy. A teacher’s professional development should be a life-long process. However, the undergraduate experience serves as the permanent foundation for that undertaking. It is during this critical period that teachers acquire the knowledge, experience the assessment methods and, in general, engage in their first teaching experience. All of these experiences will have a profound influence on their subsequent effectiveness as teachers. The National Science Education Standards (the Standards; National Research Council, 1996b, page 2) “outline what students need to know, understand, and be able to do to be scientifically literate at different grade levels.” Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993) has similar goals, and includes mathematics and technology in its subject matter. Because the Standards represents a substantial change in how science is usually taught in the United States, postsecondary science and education departments have many challenges to meet if new teachers are to be adequately prepared and appropriately certified when they begin their teaching careers. This report offers a vision of what science teacher preparation will look like in a standards-based program, and then recommends ways in which the National Science Foundation (NSF) can mobilize the postsecondary education community to achieve these goals. Although NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) plays an important role in science teacher preparation, many of the changes needed to prepare science teachers in a manner consistent with the Standards are outside of NSF’s purview. Teachers’ salaries are an important factor in undergraduates’ career decisions (Seymour and Hewitt, 1997), yet this, is an area over which NSF has no jurisdiction. Similarly, teacher licensure, credentialling and program accreditation are the responsibility of state agencies and/or national organizations such as the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) or the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC). Finally, teacher preparation should be viewed as a continuum that begins in the undergraduate years and extends throughout a teacher’s career. However, this report focuses on the undergraduate component of teacher preparation, because teacher enhancement programs are not within the purview of the NSF Division of Undergraduate Education. The NSF already has made substantial contributions to the reform of science teacher preparation through its funding processes. Substantial investments in the development of the Standards will bear fruit only if the teaching work force is prepared to implement the reforms. At present, NSF-DUE concentrates its teacher preparation resources on the Collaboratives for Excellence in Teacher Preparation (CETP), which already incorporate many of the visions and recommendations in this report. The fiscal year 1996 budget for this program was among the highest within the division, with three new awards funded for five years. Support for workshops and conferences is another part of the NSF’s strategy for improving teacher preparation; the proceedings of these workshops and conferences are valuable resources for both conference attendees and those who did not attend (e.g. National Science Foundation, 1993; National Research Council, 1997). The NSF also has invested heavily in policy studies on teacher preparation through support of reports by the National Research Council. The Mathematical Sciences Education Board’s letter report to the NSF (National Research Council, 1996c) outlines considerations and challenges specific to the preparation of mathematics teachers. Earlier
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