September 19, 2014

Education

Class Project

A regional effort looks at boosting the number of science and math teachers.

Diane Sears | 12/1/2005
While central Florida can boast of having NASA and a host of high-tech companies in its back yard, the faculties at its local schools mirror those nationwide in having too few qualified math and science instructors: One in three teachers in the region's math and science classrooms are actually specialists in other fields who are filling gaps in the math and science ranks.

A regional non-profit group, O-Force, the Orlando Regional Partnership for Tomorrow's Workforce, is tackling the problem as part of its mission of making central Florida competitive in a global economy in fields such as healthcare and information technology. To do this, local leaders say, the area's K-12 schools need to be in the top 10% nationwide.

Earlier this year, O-Force announced a program called PRISM, a 10-year initiative aimed at Promoting Regional Improvement in Science and Math. O-Force, says John Koenig, the group's president, will ask the business community to provide cash incentives for high-performing math and science teachers, not only to entice them into the schools but also to add prestige to their profession. The group plans to award incentives of $5,000 each to a certain number of teachers per year per school district based on how well their students perform on standardized tests such as FCATs and in advanced placement classes. Money for the bonuses will come from corporate donations to the PRISM program.

"Statewide, our colleges and universities are producing only 6% of the math and science teachers we need," Koenig says. "If you're good at math and science, you can be a teacher for $35,000 a year or you can go to work for Lockheed Martin or Harris Corp. for much more than that."

Eight school districts from Volusia and Brevard to Hillsborough County are working with O-Force to recruit math and science teachers. They are considering offering a special high school diploma for students who excel at math and science and looking into a more engaging middle school curriculum.

In addition, O-Force hopes to persuade businesses to pay for students to compete in math and science events that have been cut from school budgets in recent years because of a lack of funding, including Math Counts and Science Olympiad.

More than 300 people attended a regional summit on the subject held by O-Force in April. "The community is very eager to support education in a meaningful way," Koenig says. "This project has engaged them."

Tags: Central, Education

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