$11.5 million grant to UC Riverside prepares more & better science teachers

October 05, 2004

University of California, Riverside officials today announced the award of an $11.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to develop and use a comprehensive program that will identify prospective science teachers early, educate them in science and teaching strategies, and mentor them through their early years of teaching.

The five-year grant is the second largest monetary award on record at UC Riverside and the largest for the Graduate School of Education, according to the Office of Research at UCR. The project, known as Copernicus, creates a consortium for the preparation of highly qualified science teachers focusing on enriching teacher quality across a continuum of professional development.

The project costs total $18.2 million and include $11,569,806 from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education under the Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants for States and Partnerships program. The federal funds account for 63 percent of the project with another $6,702,187, or 37 percent, as a cost sharing/matching contribution coming from partner resources provided by the consortium of UCR and its collaborators.

The project goals seek to substantially increase the number, quality and diversity of the state's science teachers, and to become a nationally recognized model program for science education. The grant proposal was researched and written by Linda Scott-Hendrick, director of the UCR RIMS-BTSA Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program; and Athena Waite, director of teacher education; along with Staff Research Associate Jocelyn Edey; and education Lecturer Lynn Larsen.

"I congratulate UCR's Graduate School of Education for its leadership in initiating the Copernicus Project. This partnership between K-12 schools and universities in the Inland region is a milestone in our joint effort to improve the quality of science teaching in California's schools," said UCR Chancellor France A. Córdova. "We expect this innovative and comprehensive project will make a difference in the successful education of California's youth."

Science is one of the subjects of greatest need in the state and nationally, according to education researchers. A 2003 analysis of the federal Schools and Staffing Survey found that nearly a quarter of secondary school students take at least one class with a teacher who did not even minor in the subject taught. In high-poverty schools, that number climbs to nearly a third of all students. The Copernicus Project seeks to address this.

"The Copernicus Project continues UCR's tradition of creating innovative teaching education programs that respond to the critical needs of schools in the Inland Empire," said Steven Bossert, dean of the Graduate School of Education. "It combines cutting-edge technology on electronic portfolios and a proven model of professional development to produce the kind of science teachers our schools desperately need."

The project takes its cues from studies which have found that deep subject knowledge seems to have a positive impact on improved student achievement, especially for science and mathematics teachers, and that teacher success has a positive impact on teacher retention. A 2002 study by the National Science Foundation determined that few students are achieving levels deemed proficient or advanced in science and that U.S. student performance weakens at higher grades compared to those of other countries. The National Science Foundation has also estimated that the nation's schools will need to hire 240,000 middle and high school science and mathematics teachers in the coming decade. The Copernicus Project will rely heavily on the expertise and inspiration of faculty at UCR's College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (CNAS).

"We look forward to working with the Graduate School of Education in this novel project," said Steve Angle, dean of CNAS. "The College is dedicated to serving public education by encouraging students to consider the sciences and mathematics as a future career and by training future teachers to provide the best science and mathematics education possible."

That approach addresses the requirements of the federal "No Child Left Behind" act of 2001, which calls for every teacher working in a public school to be "highly qualified" by the 2005-2006 school year, meaning a teacher must be certified and have demonstrated proficiency in his or her subject. Proficiency is measured by having majored in the subject in college, passing a subject-knowledge test, or obtaining advanced certification in the subject.

A 2003 report by the Council of Chief State School Officers estimated that only about two-thirds of secondary teachers in science and mathematics nationally would have been considered "highly qualified" under such criteria.

To address this need, the Copernicus Project will integrate existing and new elements of programs at the Graduate School of Education, and will capitalize on existing partnerships while embarking on new ones, according to Linda Scott-Hendrick, who also directs the Galileo G*STAR Electronic Portfolio program, a key component of the Copernicus Project. National standards will guide the development of programs, curriculum, and teacher and student assessment.

"The critical need for science teachers across our region, state and country is abundantly clear, by many measures," said Scott-Hendrick. "The Copernicus Project is centered in early identification of future science teachers, systematic recruitment from a diverse pool of candidates, high quality and focused teacher preparation beginning at the community college level, and sustained mentored support of new and veteran teachers through ongoing professional development."

Some Copernicus Project elements include:
  • High School Students with an interest in science who attend UCR's Summer Science Institutes will learn about teaching opportunities in science and receive dynamic instruction by experts based on K-12 subject content standards.
  • Support groups designed for parents of high school students likely to go to college, such as those involved in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program.
  • Development at UC Riverside of a science blended program, which directs college freshmen with an interest in teaching into a science curriculum that includes early field experiences, highlights teaching strategies, and meets or exceeds K-12 content standards.
  • Integration of the online G*STAR e-portfolio system, designed to deepen teacher understanding and competency by adding technology and Web-based resources for effective teaching, preparation and continuity. The goal is to prepare teachers with an interest in attaining National Board certification.
  • Teacher recruitment and preparation, beginning at four community colleges in the partnership, that provides counseling for academics resulting in a smooth transition to a four-year university, as well as partnerships with school districts to provide field experience and introduction to the G*STAR system.
  • Partnerships with school districts for teacher placements, internships and professional development for teachers and administrators.
  • Paid internships at science-based businesses for AVID and similar high school students, internships and scholarships for teaching credential candidates, and industry involvement in the Copernicus Governance Committee.

    Project partners cover a broad spectrum of K-12, higher education and the business community. University partners with the Graduate School of Education include the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at UC Riverside; the College of Education at California State University San Bernardino; and the California Baptist University School of Education and its science faculty. The University of California, San Diego will help develop the undergraduate science preparation segment of the program. Faculty from Stanford University, California State University, Northridge, and professional staff from the RAND Corporation will be evaluating the project's progress.

    At the community college level, UCR's partners are Riverside Community College, Pasadena City College, Santa Monica College, and Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga. Primary education partners include the Riverside County Office of Education, Riverside Unified School District, Corona-Norco Unified School District, Moreno Valley Unified School District and the Palm Springs Unified School District. The Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce are also in partnership with UCR on the project.

    In its first year, the Copernicus Project will develop programs culminating in the first of four Summer Science Institutes, which will be headquartered at UCR. The institutes will partner teachers, teacher candidates and university science faculty who will co-teach enriched biological science lessons to middle and high school students. The final form will be a comprehensive K-12 model based on research and standards for literacy education through science, inquiry and instruction.

    The second phase will involve 60 hours of fieldwork for community college students considering becoming teachers. The fieldwork will consist of observations, hands-on work and apprenticeships. This phase also would introduce students to the online G*STAR e-portfolio system's technology, allowing students to highlight their projects, lesson plans and assessment reports of their work as they progress through their programs.

    Integrating fieldwork with coursework in the next two undergraduate years are part of phase three of the Copernicus Project, building on UCR's existing Comprehensive Teacher Education Institute (CTEI), to prepare teacher candidates, provide ongoing development for veteran teachers, and encourage research-based practices.

    Focus on improved knowledge in science and teaching strategies is part of phase four, through seminars focused on research and standards-based teaching methods. Students will get feedback on their teaching performance using a performance-based teacher assessment system, part of the G*STAR e-portfolio system. They will develop performance profiles showing areas that need improvement and areas of strength. The Riverside County Office of Education's Teacher Support Center will design and deliver professional development focused on science education for new and veteran teachers of English learners, and professional development for school leaders and administrators concentrated on supporting science teachers.

    Phases five and six of the program focus on newly minted teachers pursuing teaching credentials by providing ongoing professional development seminars and assistance. The e-portfolio, begun as a student, will continue to be expanded and updated, reflecting teaching skills needed for the clear credential and National Board Certification.

    On receiving baccalaureate degrees, program participants will be eligible for full-time teacher positions, placing well-prepared teachers in the classroom a year sooner than through the traditional route and increasing the number of "highly qualified" science teachers available to area school districts.

    The project's bottom line reflects what research has underscored: That the single most important element in the achievement of students is the quality of their teachers.

    "Recently, a colleague who teaches first grade received a thank-you note from one of her students. In part, the note read: 'You are smart a lot. You make me smart a lot too!'" said Scott-Hendrick. "In a most simple and elegant way, she has summed up for us what we believe matters most in the education of a child - the teacher."
    The University of California, Riverside is a major research institution and a national center for the humanities. Key areas of research include nanotechnology, genomics, environmental studies, digital arts and sustainable growth and development. With a current undergraduate and graduate enrollment of more than 17,000, the campus is projected to grow to 21,000 students by 2010. Located in the heart of inland Southern California, the nearly 1,200-acre, park-like campus is at the center of the region's economic development. Visit www.ucr.edu or call (951) UCR-NEWS (827-6397) for more information. Media sources are available at http://www.mediasources.ucr.edu/.

    University of California - Riverside

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