First things first — hire more teachers

One of the most effective ways we can ensure our country’s future security and economic prosperity is to invest in a quality education for all. In my former career as a Latin teacher, I worked hard to provide children with a solid educational foundation in language. As a legislator, I have fought to ensure that our children are provided with a well-rounded quality education in all subjects. Indeed, a solid education ensures that the next generation of workers, scientists and teachers has the skills they need to succeed. As our global economy becomes increasingly technology-based, science and math education will be vital in ensuring that our workforce can compete with nations around the world.

Unfortunately, America is falling behind in these subjects. According to the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) comparison, our 15-year-old students ranked 21st in science and 25th in math compared to other developed nations. And another recent study showed that only 34 percent of students are scoring at or above the proficient level in mathematics. America was the first country to land on the moon, the country that invented the Internet and the artificial heart. Yet today, our competitors around the globe are passing us by in math and science proficiency.
Research has shown that one of the most important factors in a child’s success is the teacher. However, in the next five years, it is projected that the gap between the number of teachers we have and the number of teachers we need will exceed a quarter of a million. We must take action to reverse this trend and put America back on top in math and science achievement.

To help address this issue, President Barack Obama has launched the “Educate to Innovate” campaign, which seeks to reignite interest and improve performance in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). By harnessing the energy and expertise of the federal government, private companies, foundations, non-profits and other stakeholders, this initiative will work to support teachers and reengage students in these critical fields.

As part of Educate to Innovate, my home state of Michigan is embarking on a new and exciting project. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation recently awarded the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation a $16.7 million grant to establish a new statewide teaching fellowship program. This will train 240 future STEM teachers in an intensive master’s program and place them in hard-to-staff middle and high schools. It is expected that these fellows will impact nearly 20,000 students over a five-year period.

The program seeks to attract a diverse group of candidates, ranging from college seniors to experienced professionals looking to change careers. With our highly skilled workforce, particularly in the auto industry, Michigan is a perfect choice for this kind of program. These talented workers are prime candidates for future teachers who can share their experiences with students, helping make invention and discovery more exciting and attainable.

To help support these future teachers during their training, fellows will receive a stipend and will be placed in schools in groups, helping to create a peer-to-peer support network. They will also receive intensive mentoring which will continue throughout their three-year assignment. This will help encourage them to choose teaching as a long-term career instead of a short-term job.

This is an exciting opportunity for our state, both for aspiring teachers and for the students who will benefit. It also fits in well with education goals set by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has pledged to double our current number of college graduates and is starting an initiative to better train algebra teachers. It is my hope that this fellowship will prove a successful model that can help inspire similar programs throughout our country.

On a national level, my colleagues and I in Congress have a tremendous opportunity to improve math and science education for all American children with our upcoming work to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act (ESEA). As chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, I believe we have a great opportunity to move forward in a bipartisan manner with a reauthorization of ESEA, and math and science education will be a critical component of this legislation.

The world has always looked to America as a leader in math and science, but we risk losing out to other countries if we do not make serious investments in education for our children. We are taking important steps to address this issue and to ensure that America’s children lead the world in math and science achievement. In an increasingly global and competitive economy, education for our children is one of the most important investments we can make.

Kildee chairs the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education.