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UT Austin Collaborative Tackles Math and Computer Science Teaching Shortages in Texas

Published on June 16, 2020 by Faith Singer-Villalobos



The improvement of middle school mathematics presents one of the most important and enduring educational challenges in the United States. Two organizations from the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin—the Charles A. Dana Center and UTeach—along with WeTeach_CS from the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), have partnered to address the critical needs of Texas educators and students in the areas of mathematics and computer science.

Supported through a grant from Microsoft, the collaboration brings together the expertise of all three organizations to address the math and computer science teaching shortage in Texas. Teacher shortages in rural areas in the state make it difficult for students, particularly those who are underrepresented, to even access the mathematics and computer science courses they need.

Carol Fletcher, Director of WeTeach_CS and the Expanding Pathways in Computing (EPIC) group at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, UT Austin.

"Mathematics teachers are among the most in-demand teaching positions and often the most difficult to fill. We know there is a direct correlation between teacher preparation and student performance," said Uri Treisman, University Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Dana Center executive director. "As the flagship university in the state of Texas, it was our duty to respond to this growing need. The Dana Center, UTeach and WeTeach_CS all bring deep expertise in teaching and learning, and we are excited for the collaborative thinking and innovation that will come from this partnership to support educators and their students."

The ultimate aim is to establish a new approach to prepare and support math and computer science teachers, with a focus on the highest need rural and urban districts. The Dana Center, UTeach and WeTeach_CS will explore how the alignment and coordination of their resources can address teacher shortages at scale and in ways that can be adapted by other states.

"Expanding access to computer science and mathematics education is critical to ensuring students acquire the skills needed to thrive in today's digital economy," said Kate Johnson, president of Microsoft U.S. "This is particularly important at the middle school level, where students are expected to build a solid foundation for high school and beyond. These three organizations from The University of Texas are well positioned to tackle the core problem of mathematics and computer science teaching shortages, and we are pleased to support their efforts."

This initiative will begin developing a novel pathway for recruiting, developing and certifying middle school math and computer science teachers. Community colleges and other universities will be invited to join this development as the work unfolds.

"Our research has documented that less than five percent of Texas high school students take a computer science course, and that rural schools are far less likely to offer computer science than their urban and suburban counterparts. WeTeach_CS Collaboratives have made a significant impact on teacher capacity in rural schools in particular, so we are thrilled to use this proven model of success to increase our support for broadening participation in computing in rural communities."
Carol Fletcher, Director of WeTeach_CS and the Expanding Pathways in Computing (EPIC) group at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, UT Austin.

"By focusing on middle school teacher preparation in a regional approach, we hope to find solutions that we can then scale throughout Texas and beyond by partnering with two- and four-year institutions of higher education," said Bill Crowe, Dana Center interim director of higher education strategy, policy and services. "This work will be poised for national expansion through the networks already created by the Dana Center, UTeach and WeTeach_CS in order to create a robust pipeline of teachers prepared to support the evolving needs of students."

This joint initiative is also working to expand the teaching pool in computer science. Almost half of the high schools in the state offer zero computer science courses. The schools that do offer computer science courses are in predominantly upper-income areas.

"Our research has documented that less than five percent of Texas high school students take a computer science course, and that rural schools are far less likely to offer computer science than their urban and suburban counterparts," said Carol Fletcher, director of WeTeach_CS and the Expanding Pathways in Computing (EPIC) unit of TACC. "WeTeach_CS Collaboratives have made a significant impact on teacher capacity in rural schools in particular, so we are thrilled to use this proven model of success to increase our support for broadening participation in computing in rural communities."

The first focus areas of the collaboration include UT PREP summer camps, the launch of a WeTeach_CS Collaborative in El Paso, and assembly of a K–14 Teacher Pipeline Task Force, all of which allow for rapid impact. This includes improving the mathematics experience of middle school students.

"The keys to providing teachers and opportunities for students who need them the most are sense of purpose and collaboration," said Michael Marder, executive director of UTeach. "This project will help UT Austin refocus its purpose on the preparation of teachers. Accomplishing this goal requires strengthened collaborations—collaborations within the university between the Colleges of Natural Sciences and Education, with the Dana Center and WeTeach_CS, and between our university and other colleges. Microsoft is providing the catalyst, and this support could not have come at a more important time."

The collaborative work of the Dana Center, UTeach, and WeTeach_CS will begin this summer.


Contact

Faith Singer-Villalobos

Communications Manager
faith@tacc.utexas.edu | 512-232-5771

Aaron Dubrow

Science And Technology Writer
aarondubrow@tacc.utexas.edu

Jorge Salazar

Technical Writer/Editor
jorge@tacc.utexas.edu | 512-475-9411