Governor Chet Culver, top college officials and an executive from one of the state’s largest companies today urged legislators to adopt two initiatives to improve science and math education in Iowa. One calls for a new effort, based at the University of Northern Iowa, to train more science and math teachers.
Culver says 10 percent of high school math and science teaching jobs are unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants. "In addition, 50 percent of all new math and science teachers leave the classroom in the first five years," Culver says. Those exits, mainly due to the lure of higher pay in the private sector, are exacerbating what University of Northern Iowa president Ben Allen calls a perfect storm.
"We have over 100 physics teachers in the state of Iowa ready and maybe willing to retire based upon their time at the institutions and their age, but we have only 14 physics teachers coming out of our Regents universities this past year," Allen says. That would be the graduating classes of Iowa, Iowa State and U-N-I. Tom Hobson, an executive from Rockwell-Collins in Cedar Rapids, says it’s "essential" that people quit the hand-wringing and start doing something to get students more excited about pursuing careers in math and science.
"We cannot afford to wait. We must take action to address this issue," Hobson says. "…From a business community, whether the businesses are large or small, science and math (are) going to be very important to each of our existences." The other education initiative is focused on the 70 Iowa school districts which do not offer students the opportunity to enroll in community college classes while still in high school.
"This is an issue of fairness that needs to be addressed immediately," Culver says. A bill Culver’s pushing encourages those 70 districts to work with their local community college to offer courses to high school students, but it does not require or mandate such a move.