Math and Science Award-Winning Teachers Offer Duncan Advice on Reform

Secretary Arne Duncan speaks to 2009 PAEMST award winners.

Secretary Duncan calls on a "remarkable group" to help him take advantage of the "huge opportunities" that exist in this country to take education to the next level. "Education may be the one thing—for all the craziness we see in Washington—where we may be able to see great gains in the coming year," he told the 2009 PAEMST award winners.

Today the 2009 Presidential Awardees for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching Education offered Education Secretary Arne Duncan advice about how to leverage the “huge opportunities” that exist in our country to move forward with education reform.

Soliciting their input on a range of issues, Duncan called on teachers whom he described as “the best of the best” to share their ideas to improve the quality of education that students get in our country. Citing recent PISA scores released by the OECD this month that rank the United States as 17th in science and 25th in math, Duncan said, “This is about more than just math and science. It’s about our country’s strength and long term stability.”

Recommendations from the teachers focused on improving teacher preparation and professional development and on holding parents and students accountable for their part of a child’s education. When Becky Jones, of West Virginia, called for more rigorous training of elementary math and science teachers, affirmations of “Yes!” reverberated through the audience of PAEMST winners. Awardee Camsie Matis, a science teacher and Einstein Fellow from New York, offered to work with other PAEMST winners to mentor other math and science teachers. Other winners offered to write up their teaching ideas, which the Department will post soon on the blog.

Laurie Calvert, Teaching Ambassador Fellow

Laurie Calvert is an English Teacher in North Carolina and a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.


  1. I am right there with you Becky! Teaching is my second career and I love it!! When I worked on this second degree I spent 6 weeks on math, science and social studies – so basically 2 weeks each – to prepare to teach elementary students these three very important subjects. THIS IS NOT RIGHT!!!! After I was hired as a math teacher 5-8 grade. I decided to obtain my Master’s in K-8 mathematics at Drury instead of the Praxis. I thought I would gain more a master’s for my students.
    The best place I gained math knowledge, concepts and teaching ability was in a two week long – 8 hours a day – Professional Development course – called Math Academy sponsored by a grant in Missouri. It was wonderful!!!! The teachers became students again and learned EVERYTHING from math concepts to classroom management. It was the BEST time I have ever spent doing professional development. I wish the funding would come back so I could go back for the other section and the possible third they were working on.

  2. I recently retired from teaching fifth and sixth grades. Among my teaching challenges was the lack of preparation that my students exhibited at the outset. I taught in both a high performing school and one with many economic , sociological, and educational challenges. I agree with other writers that science and math topics were skipped in earlier grades, so that I had to introduce fourth grade topics very frequently to catch my students up; e.g. electricity. I know from talking to the teachers in earlier grades that they would become defensive about this. One does not become popular in the faculty room for bringing up these subjects. Collaboration between teachers(lesson study) was not implemented except on a surface level by administrators. Also, it was difficult to bring professional development knowledge back to any of our schools, because other teachers did not know what was happening. Content knowledge beyond the teacher’s guide of many topics was woefully lacking. I am amazed that many teachers did not graduate with a distinct college major in any subject.

  3. STEM implementation means the core areas of Science and Math (“what is”) need to be supported by the elective areas of Engineering and Technology (“what can be”). If Government is truly interested in developing STEM programs for U.S. global competitiveness, a presidential award for engineering and technology should be established and have the same weight and importance as Science and Math.

  4. Mr. Duncan stresses more testing because he is a politician disguised as an educator. He and President are selling the idea that testing and “rigor” will somehow save our country and make us more competitive. This appeals to conservative minded Americans and business leaders who have not spent a single day teaching students. Obama wants to get elected again- he feels that this approach will earn him votes. This has nothing to do with kids or learning. In a few years, we will learn that Duncan’s ideas resulted in failure, that is unless they cheat when reporting the test results.

    America’s “educational crisis” is not the result of teachers not doing their job-it is the result of the breakdown of he American family, too many people looking for a free pay day- with the help of an out of control legal profession, and schools being forced to teach what is deemed as necessary by politicians.

  5. I agree elementary teachers require more general knowledge in science, and training in being effective science teachers. One of the reasons teachers require that extra training however, is the narrowed curriculum many elementary schools teach has made science knowledge (and social studies, art) unnecessary. Why train teachers to teach science if so many schools don’t allow them to teach it? Test scores continue to narrow the curriculum, especially for our most at risk students. When is Mr. Duncan going to more strenuously decry the narrowing practice? States shouldn’t get federal money if they don’t include ALL subjects. I understand it flies in the face of his support of testing, and especially the current tests that he states he knows are poor … so why not mention that and support broadening the curriculum … make that case to the American people? Finland and other countries that make up that group that scores higher than we do don’t stress testing … why does Mr. Duncan?

  6. Becky, I fully understand your comment. Although it is disheartening, your statement is also very true. I have been teaching fifth grade for 10 consecutive years. Most of my students, approximately 90%, actually leave me and go on to middle school and take either pre-algebra or algebra 1. However, I have also witnessed that teachers, as you eloquently described, either skip sections or flat out not teach sections in math and science that are the foundations for success in fifth grade. It is often times very difficult for me to have to reteach skills that should have been mastered and then cram what is expected to be mastered in hopes that the students will pass the standardized test at the end of the year. Parents should be held accountable as well as area universities and colleges in preparing future teachers. Many people do not fully understand the role we as educators have…especially the elementary teacher.

  7. I am afraid that the comment that I am quoted with saying may upset Elementary teachers. Please allow me to explain. First, I am an elementary teacher, with a specialization in Science up to the 8th grade, which places me in secondary education for some things. The comment was an accumulation of weeklong discussions among the 53 science teachers in attendance for the PAEMST activities. One area identified as needing strengthening in order to increase STEM education was among elementary teachers. Awardees from around the country stated time and time again that many elementary teachers skip or don’t teach units in science and/or math because they either don’t like them or don’t understand them. Many times the skipped unit is crucial for building a solid foundation that is necessary for student success in middle/high school. We believe that better professional development for existing teachers and better preparations for pre service teachers will help with both of these areas of concern. I know that elementary teachers work extremely hard and have time constraints, but given the necessary information and knowledge we can work wonders, which in turn better prepare all students for the 21st Century workforce.

  8. I really like the statement about holding students AND parents accountable. Teachers can be outstanding and overcome many obstacles,,,but without parents/students holding up their end of the teaching/learning process and being accountable, some obstacles are insurmountable.

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