Thank You : LUSENET : Middle School Science : One Thread


Thank you to all that responded to my request for information regarding my testimony in Washington D.C. The hearing went very well and many ideas were discussed and suggestions offered. There was, of course, only so much that could be discussed in a 3 hour time frame. I decided to focus my testimony on the need to attract quality educators to teaching and to keep quality educators in teaching. Below please find a copy of the "meat" of my testimony. If you would like to learn more about the purpose of the committee or yesterday's hearing, you can log onto the committee's web site at:

Thank you again,


The Federal Government’s Role: Placing quality educators in this nation’s math and science classrooms

For my testimony today, I was asked to address the single most important step that the federal government should take to improve K-12 math and science education. The answer is necessarily broad and will require an investment of time and money: Find a way to place quality people in our nation’s math and science classrooms and keep them there. I have a friend who is an administrator in a struggling school in Manhattan. She is a Teach For America alumnus and one of the most talented educators I know. At 150% capacity, her school educates 1700 students in two shifts every day. Since September, four teaching positions have remained vacant, filled on a rotating basis with substitutes. My friend is the only certified science teacher in the entire building. The only bodies willing to stick around are staunch idealists, first year teachers, veterans biding their time until retirement or educators who left other schools amid controversy. This is a crisis. In an e-mail correspondence I received the other day, a New York educator commented that “without capable replacements for the tens of thousands of experienced teachers now looking toward the end of their classroom careers, it won’t matter what gets put down in paper documents or on-line sites, and it won’t matter what National Standards exist, because there won’t be anyone able to lead our students.” The approach to putting quality individuals in math and science classrooms must be multi-faceted and should include:

1. A systemic review of the quality of education programs in this country, similar to the AMA’s review of medical school graduation requirements at the turn of the century. There are programs in New York City that award masters degrees to students as if they were lollipops for “good effort”. I have many friends enrolled in what are considered the top education programs in the country who respond with a laugh when I inquire about the rigor of their program. “Thank God I’m not paying for it” one recently remarked about her masters training. This review must include an assessment of programs for both teachers and administrators. A Chinese general commented about the Russian Army in the second world war that they were like a bunch of lions led by asses. If the educational leader of a school is without vision and proper training, the teachers, the students and the school will not succeed. 2. Financial incentives offered to educators willing to teach in under-served areas. There should be enough money to make teaching science in shortage areas an economically feasible consideration for our brightest students. These include: increased federal dollars for licensed teachers in the shortage areas of math and science, housing allowances to encourage prospective teachers to live in the neighborhood where they teach, tax breaks and increased levels of loan forgiveness, tuition reimbursement to encourage teachers to take science and math courses at local universities and to pursue advanced degrees. 3. A serious effort to provide science teachers with the appropriate tools with which to teach science. This includes smaller class size and appropriate science equipment. The laboratory is where the process of science or the act of doing science meets the content of science. Schools need water faucets that function, lab tables that won’t catch fire, and microscopes that work. A quality educator is not going to be attracted to a school where the prospect of doing a laboratory experiment means clearing the cobwebs from the science supply room. 4. Fostering the development of partnerships between universities and local schools. I have already mentioned the new endeavor at Downstate and the existing opportunities at several other East coast medical schools. These relationships need active support from the government. Quality teachers are starving for quality professional development 5. Encouraging professionals to consider teaching as a second career. I attended a lecture last year on the genetics of heart disease, given by a famous physician and basic research scientist. He mentioned that he was considering leaving academia to pursue full time work for a small biotech firm and if the firm folded, he wanted to teach high school science. Recently, Wendy Kopp and Teach For America founded The New Teacher Project, a non-for profit consulting organization with this expressed purpose. The New Teacher Project works with school districts to design a recruit and support program aimed at bringing professionals into teaching as a second career. The New York Teaching Fellows Program is one product of this collaborative effort.

We must create public schools that make teachers and students excited about math and science. No one wants to be a part of a losing team. There are public schools in New York City, in poor and under-served communities that are thriving. These are schools where the administration is strong, the teachers well trained and the students excel. You will not attract talented individuals into a profession whose training programs are fodder for the funny pages, where starting salaries are comparable to those of first-year prison guards at Sing Sing and whose publicity consists largely of public ridicule. You will not attract talented individuals into a school building where students’ book bags are passed through x-ray scanners, the desks are broken and too few in number, and the staff development days consist of grading the latest writing exams. When I tell people that I am a medical student, I am bright, I am well respected, I am elite. When I told people that I was a teacher, I was a martyr, I was wasting my talents, I was wasting my time. This Congress cannot wait for another space race and another Sputnik before it does everything in its power to make quality education from quality educators this nation’s top priority.

Conclusion: How can we afford not to make this work?

The data is clear. The stories are real. Until the staggering inequities that exist in this nation’s classrooms are corrected, we lose children every day. James McBride in “The Color of Water”, writes of growing up in the Red Hook Housing Projects in Brooklyn, New York in the 1950s and 1960s, one of 12 children, the son of a white mother and a black father. Today, these 12 siblings are medical doctors, high school teachers and university professors. Ruth McBride Jordan made sure her children understood that education was king. “Educate yourself, or you’ll be a nobody”, “What good is money if your mind is empty?” In the words of James McBride, “We thrived on thought, books, music and art, which she fed to us instead of food.” Collectively, this Congress must be Mrs. McBride Jordan. You must establish and foster a national ethic that declares, without hesitation, that the education of our children is second to nothing. Some argue that we should be worried about protecting our country from a foreign missile strike. While this may be a valid concern, I contend that we should be more concerned about the fact that most of my sixth grade students did not know how to use a 12-inch ruler. This committee has, time and again, held hearings about math and science education. After reading through some of the transcripts of these hearings, it is clear to me that many thoughtful and encouraging discussions have taken place. The discussion, rightly so, must now turn to next steps. Unpopular decisions must be made, long-term solutions must be pursued and money must be spent. I can assure you, from first hand experience, abundant rewards await. The same overcrowded school about which I spoke earlier in my testimony started a chess team a few years ago. The teachers and students trained together after school for a year and, after a few tournaments, traveled to Tennessee to compete in the national championships. They won their age division. In the words of Ray Owens, a 1990 charter Teach For America corps member, “the question that we should ask ourselves should not be ‘how can I make this work?’ The question must be, ‘how can I afford not to make this work?”

-- Jonathan Brenner (, March 08, 2001

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