Northern Arizona University is getting $3.4 million in grants to more than double the number of math and science teachers it graduates.
The school is one of only 12 in the nation that will receive money from the National Math and Science Initiative. The $2.4 million from that source, financed by ExxonMobil, is designed to replicate a successful program crafted at the University of Texas at Austin to boost teachers.
Those funds will be used to revamp the teaching program and hire "master teachers'' – those experienced in actually being in the classroom – to help existing faculty both in teaching the courses as well as supervising student teachers and advising students.
But the more significant part of the funding announced Monday may be $1 million from the Helios Education Foundation which actually will let math and science majors try out being a teacher. That even includes experience in a classroom.
Julie Gess-Newsome, director of NAU's Center for Science Teaching and Learning, said the grant even provides a financial incentive: Students who complete one or both of the optional one-credit courses each will receive a $125 stipend.
Gess-Newsome said this program will do more than just lure more people into teaching. She said it actually will help overall retention, weeding out those who quit within a few years because they shouldn't be in the profession in the first place.
"In a lot of cases, especially for secondary teachers ... it's often an afterthought, something they decide their junior or senior year when they're saying, 'Now what am I going to do with this degree?' '' she said. This program, she said, will help would-be teachers understand early on what the profession is about "because sometimes it's very different to be on the teaching side of the table.''
The announcement came just hours after the state Board of Education voted unanimously to increase the number of math and science courses students will need to graduate from Arizona high schools. Board members acknowledged the requirement, to be phased in beginning with the class of 2012, will require more teachers.
Gess-Newsome said NAU now graduates between 20 and 25 science teachers each year, a figure she hopes to boost to 45. The university also wants to graduate 15 math teachers a year, up from eight per year on average.
NAU President John Haeger said the money from the two grants, while significant, will not cover all of the costs of graduating more trained teachers. Haeger said he is planning to ask lawmakers for an additional $1.7 million for the coming school year just to hire the additional faculty.
Gov. Janet Napolitano refused to say exactly how much more she intends to seek from the Legislature for teacher programs. But she acknowledged the grants, by themselves, are not the total answer.
The governor said both the University of Arizona and Arizona State University are developing programs of their own to boost trained teachers. And she said individual school districts need to do more to keep trained teachers from leaving the classroom.
"So it's not just one silver bullet here,'' she said. "It's going to be a whole toolbox of things that come together with the joint goal of making sure that all the Arizona students who graduate from our high schools, when they get that diploma, it means they've had a certain amount of math, a certain amount of science (which is) tied to what they really need to go beyond high school.''
Napolitano has supported requirements for additional math and science.
"It will help propel students to be 21st century ready,'' she said.