Published: Jan. 6, 2010

Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano of the University of Colorado at Boulder visited the White House today as one of four public research university leaders representing about 120 universities pledging to address the national shortage of science and mathematics teachers in a letter presented to President Barack Obama.

The letter was signed by leaders from 79 public research universities or university systems and stated, "Together, our institutions committing to the Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative will strive to increase the number of new science and mathematics teachers we prepare to more than 10,000 annually by 2015, for an additional 7,500 new teachers over the next five years."

Thirty-nine institutions, including CU-Boulder, and three university systems have also pledged to at least double the number of science and mathematics teachers graduated by 2015. SMTI is sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

"In recent years, a good number of public research universities have begun to address the issue of science and mathematics education and teacher preparation," said DiStefano. "Working through SMTI will enable our institutions to significantly impact science and mathematics education in our states and across the nation. It is a matter of economic security and global competitiveness."

The letter was hand delivered to the White House by DiStefano; Lee T. Todd, Jr., president of the University of Kentucky; Bernadette Gray-Little, chancellor of the University of Kansas; William "Brit" Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland; Peter McPherson, president of APLU; and Howard Gobstein, executive officer and vice president and co-director of SMTI at APLU.

"America's leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today, especially in science, math and engineering," said President Obama. "That's why I'm pleased to announce the expansion of our "Educate to Innovate" campaign today and applaud the several new partnerships launched that will help meet our goal of moving American students from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade."

SMTI, launched by APLU in November 2008, encompasses 121 public research universities in 41 states and the District of Columbia -- including 11 university systems. Combined, these institutions currently prepare more than 7,500 science and mathematics teachers annually -- making it the largest Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, new teacher initiative in the country.

"Public research universities have a central role to play in educating science and mathematics teachers," said APLU President Peter McPherson. "We enroll more undergraduate science, mathematics and engineering students than any other type of U.S. university and, moreover, many of our universities have large colleges of education. This combination is just right for public research universities to make a major contribution to meeting the call by President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan to raise American students to the top of the pack in science and mathematics achievement."

Through the initiative, APLU has galvanized university leadership to action as well as sought to encompass the successful programs already in place on member campuses, track progress with metrics and program assessments, and collaborate effectively with national efforts of the education sector, private sector, and state and federal governments.

Efforts under way at CU-Boulder and the other three campuses represented today at the White House include:

University of Colorado at Boulder

-- The University of Colorado at Boulder stands alone in the breadth of its integrated, campuswide Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives that transform the way undergraduate courses are taught. CU-Boulder professors conduct leading research in STEM education and recruit the best math and science students into teaching.

-- Recognized as a national leader in STEM education, CU-Boulder STEM education programs are supported by an array of grants totaling more than $30 million from national organizations including the National Science Foundation. Faculty-directors of these efforts serve in national roles such as chairing the National Academies' Board on Science Education and advising on the recent Race-to-the-Top National Resource Conference.

-- Through a multidisciplinary collaboration of the School of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering and Applied Science, CU-Boulder has increased the number of STEM majors completing secondary math and science teacher certification from an average of six per year (2000-04) to 13 per year (2005-present). The number of physics and chemistry majors enrolling in teacher certification has more than tripled in the past three years.

-- Replicated at 12 other universities, CU-Boulder's Learning Assistant Program has worked aggressively since 2003 to recruit and prepare future K-12 math and science teachers, and to improve introductory STEM courses at CU. To date, 444 STEM majors have participated as Learning Assistants, helping to improve introductory courses in 10 departments and to positively impact more than 8,000 CU students each year. Learning Assistants outperform their peers in measures of student learning, and students in Learning Assistant-supported classes show learning gains two to three times that of students in traditional courses.

-- CU-Boulder was one of only 13 teacher education programs in the nation awarded a grant in 2007 by the National Math and Science Initiative to model its CU Teach program after the nationally renowned UTeach program. CU Teach works with existing STEM programs at CU to prepare secondary math and science teachers who are ready to teach right after earning their bachelor's degree.

-- Distinguished Professor and Nobel laureate Carl Wieman launched the Science Education Initiative in 2006 to incorporate research findings on effective science instruction in classrooms at CU-Boulder. In 2002 Wieman also created the Physics Education Technology project, or PhET. The globally renowned education tool uses interactive Web-based simulations for physics instruction.

-- World-renowned researchers, including Distinguished Professor and Nobel laureate Thomas Cech, teach CU-Boulder undergraduates and help encourage students to consider K-12 teaching as an intellectually challenging and rewarding endeavor.

-- In 2009, CU-Boulder was awarded one of only six NSF Innovation Through Institutional Integration grants to build a Center for STEM education, designed to further establish CU as a national hub of STEM education research and reform.

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University of Kentucky

"Our nation's economic competitiveness is at risk if we are unable or unwilling to address the shortage of qualified science and mathematics teachers," said Todd. "We must rebuild our ability to prepare the world's most educated and scientifically and mathematically literate workforces if we are to continue among the world's most secure and competitive economies. Recruiting and preparing new teachers and providing access to ongoing education research will be critical to solving our science and mathematics teacher challenge."

The University of Kentucky and its partners are at the forefront of this effort with the Kentucky P20 Innovation Lab and a strategic plan and systemic alignment of curriculum from pre-school through graduate education. The plan includes recruiting and preparing STEM teachers, providing ongoing professional development, extensive education research and, significantly, translating research findings into the classroom.

University of Kansas

In Kansas, declining interest in teaching combined with high levels of attrition is posing a challenge as the current teaching force nears retirement.

"The education workforce in Kansas is rapidly graying, with many of our highly qualified teachers nearing retirement," said Gray-Little. "Trends are combining to escalate the deficit of qualified science and mathematics teachers, leading us to wonder who will prepare the next generation of science and mathematics teachers who will in turn inspire future generations of science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals."

The UKan Teach program, sponsored by the KU Center for Science Education, in its first two years already has seen enrollment grow from 33 to 157 students. By 2014, the university projects enrollment of 430 students with an annual graduation rate of 120 science and mathematics teachers each year. The program is modeled after the nationally renowned UTeach program.

University System of Maryland

"Higher education has a critical responsibility in preparing a competitive workforce for the 21st century," said Kirwan. "In Maryland, we have called upon both the public and private sector to develop a statewide agenda to address science and mathematics education."

The University System of Maryland's ambitious agenda includes tripling the number of highly qualified STEM teachers produced by the state's 11 public universities from 120 to 360 by 2015. Also, $20 million in National Science Foundation grants has funded professional development programs for biology, chemistry, physics, and earth/space science teachers; provided summer training opportunities in research laboratories at USM institutions; and enabled university faculty, graduate students and high school teachers to form learning communities to review curriculum and explore inquiry-based instruction in high schools and colleges.

About the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities

Founded in 1887, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities is an association of public research universities, land-grant institutions, and many state public university systems. APLU member campuses enroll more than 3.5 million undergraduate and 1.1 million graduate students, employ more than 645,000 faculty members, and conduct nearly two-thirds of all academic research, totaling more than $34 billion annually. As the nation's oldest higher education association, APLU is dedicated to excellence in learning, discovery and engagement. For more information, visit

About the Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) launched the Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative (SMTI) in November 2008 to increase the number and diversity of high-quality middle and high school science and mathematics teachers in the United States. Today, SMTI encompasses 121 public research universities in 41 states -- including 11 university systems. Combined, these institutions prepare more than 7,500 science and mathematics teachers annually -- making it the largest STEM new teacher initiative in the country.

CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano (third from the right) claps while listening to President Barack Obama during his Jan. 6 visit to the White House. (Photo courtesy of The Associated Press)