New Teacher Center at UC Santa Cruz picked for $7.5 million NSF project to improve science education

The New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in collaboration with the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Montana State University, has been awarded a five-year, $7.5 million grant by the National Science Foundation to develop and implement an online mentoring program for beginning science teachers.

The project, which aims to improve student learning by bolstering the effectiveness of new middle and high school science teachers, is a perfect fit for the New Teacher Center (NTC), which is dedicated to improving education by promoting the development of an excellent teaching force.

The NTC has developed a successful model of teacher induction that provides the mentor support of an experienced teacher to all new teachers during their first two years in the classroom. Recognizing that research shows the quality of the classroom teacher is the single most important ingredient for student learning, the NTC has emerged as a national leader in the development of teacher excellence.

The NTC's expertise is in greater demand than ever as the nation's schools prepare to hire at least two million new teachers over the next decade. Typically, the newest teachers are placed in the most difficult classes in the neediest schools. Alarmingly, half all new teachers leave the profession within the first five years. New teachers who participate in NTC support programs, however, have a dropout rate of only 5 percent.

This NSF project will allow NTC to expand its reach by developing an e-mentoring version of its support programs. Called the Virtual Mentoring for Student Success (VMSS) project, the new initiative will tap NTC to design and administer an e-mentoring system to support beginning teachers in six large urban California school districts and a consortium of 90 rural districts in Montana.

VMSS partners will create mentoring networks of new teachers, mentor teachers, university faculty members, and school administrators to provide support to beginning science teachers in middle school and high school. Participants will develop national standards for the mentoring and induction of beginning science teachers, and they will create a national e-mentoring network to disseminate the model nationwide.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to enhance our work with beginning secondary science teachers in collaboration with science faculty on campus," said NTC Director Ellen Moir. "In taking our mentoring model online, we will develop ways to further our support for teachers as they start their careers."

The project is one of 24 new NSF initiatives funded under its new Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program, which is designed to improve the achievement of K-12 students in science and mathematics. The VMSS project addresses the number of teachers who are not fully trained to teach math and science.

"These partnerships will become part of a broad national network of interconnected sites that will share successful instructional strategies, entice and train competent science and math teachers and improve learning for millions of students," said NSF Director Rita Colwell.

"One of the key outcomes of these grants will be the improved content knowledge of teachers of mathematics and science in districts across America," said U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. "This will undoubtedly lead to improved student achievement."

The NSTA is the lead agency on the VMSS project, and the NTC will work with six participating school districts: Hayward Unified, Morgan Hill Unified, Mt. Diablo Unified, Gilroy Unified, North Monterey County, and Pajaro Valley Unified. Montana State University at Bozeman will work with Billings Public Schools, Great Falls Public Schools, Manhattan Public Schools, and consortia representing 90 small rural districts.

Occurring both online and face-to-face, mentoring activities will help new science teachers analyze student work to evaluate how well students are grasping basic science concepts, know how this relates to key science standards, and plan necessary changes in the classroom to improve the learning of all students, from middle school to undergraduates/preservice teachers. Four-week-long online study groups will link mentees and mentors with scientists to explore specific standards-based concepts.

The effectiveness of the model will be evaluated throughout the five-year project, and the science achievement of VMSS teachers' students will be compared to that of students of non-VMSS novice and experienced science teachers. Participants will showcase the VMSS model to administrators and science teachers at conventions in California and Montana, and at regional and national NSTA meetings. Ultimately, national standards for the mentoring of new science teachers will be developed and disseminated nationally, and the e-mentoring network will be widely replicated.