California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

CSULB Receives NSF Grant to Prepare Science, Math Teachers

Published: December 15, 2008

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is addressing a shortage of qualified science and mathematics teachers in K-12 schools by providing funding to college students earning their teaching credentials in these fields.

Cal State Long Beach received a $500,000 grant for the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program that will provide $15,000 per year to selected students beginning in fall 2009 through mid-2012. This is CSULB’s second Noyce grant following an initial $460,000 that funded 41 students at $10,000 per year between 2004 and ending in spring 2009.

“The money is to support math, science and engineering majors who commit to teaching in high-needs school districts,” explained Laura Henriques, chair of CSULB’s Department of Science Education in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and principal investigator for the two grants. The new grant will fund 21 students as well as support a study of the program effectiveness of the first grant.

The Noyce program provides forgivable loans to students for up to three years—two years of undergraduate education and one year of postbaccalaureate coursework including student teaching. People who already have a bachelor’s degree can get one year of postbaccalaureate funding while they complete their credential. Participants also receive mentoring and attend professional development seminars. In return, they must teach in a high needs school for two years for every year of funding they receive.

Students can use the grant funds toward college and/or living expenses. “We hope it will allow them not to have to work so many hours outside of school so that they can finish more quickly,” Henriques said. Student teaching takes about 20 weeks, so “especially in the student teaching phase when they’re in the schools all day long, it’s really hard to work and stay successful.

“Our partner school districts are Long Beach Unified and Whittier Union High School District,” Henriques continued. “Our students tutor five hours a week in our partner schools and then they do their student teaching in the partner school. By the time they get to student teaching, some of them may have been in the school for two years. They know the kids and the faculty; they’re a part of that school, so they’re much more likely to be successful in that setting. They’re not required to teach in those two school districts when they finish, although the districts often give them job offers because they’re a known quantity and they’ve been successful. They can teach anywhere in the country, but they have to be in high needs schools.

“There are three ways that NSF defines a high needs school—50 percent or more students qualify for free or reduced lunches, there is a 15 percent attrition rate for teachers, and 34 percent of the teachers do not have their degree or major or a graduate degree in the field in which they teach,” she continued. “Most of the schools in our area qualify. The grant really wants people to teach in high needs schools. A school might be right on the edge of that 50 percent free or reduced lunch and we don’t want a teacher to have to leave because this year only 49 percent of the students are in poverty.”

However, Henriques said that she is having a hard time recruiting students to participate, in part because they may be reluctant to commit to teaching in high needs schools, erroneously believing that “high needs” is a euphemism for difficult or dangerous. She noted that many school districts including Long Beach and Whittier have good quality schools even in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods.

Moreover, she said many prospective elementary school teachers enter college already knowing that is their career path, while science, math or engineering students typically focus on those majors and may only consider teaching as an afterthought by the time they reach their junior or senior years.