The state should invest in scholarships to encourage the best and brightest to become math and science teachers as a key step in reversing New York's declining number of math, science, and engineering graduates, Ed Reinfurt, vice president of The Business Council, has told state lawmakers.
In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, Reinfurt said the key competitive asset of New York’s economy today is its workforce, which he said is among the most highly educated and productive in the nation.
Today, this leadership is under challenge, Reinfurt said.
“New York, once a leader in educating and employing scientists and engineers, is falling behind,” Reinfurt said. “This state is graduating fewer than 4,000 new engineers each year –about 1,000 fewer than if we matched the (inadequate) U.S. average. In fact, New York annually graduates about twice as many psychology majors as engineers.”
New York needs to make a commitment to getting more young people graduating from college with math, science, and engineering degrees, Reinfurt said. If we are serious about making a sustained and significant man-on-the moon level of commitment, we should consider teachers as the booster rocket which will allow us to achieve our objective. An enhancement of the supply of qualified math and science teachers will have the greatest and the most immediate opportunity to significantly increase the supply of math, science, and engineering graduates.
The Business Council is proposing a Teach for the Future initiative, drawn from a model developed by the National Academies of the Sciences, to produce 500 new, highly qualified science and math teachers every year. Under the Council's plan, the state would fund 500 competitive scholarships each year, at up to $20,000 per year for up to five years, for students who agree to earn a bachelor’s of science degree in science or math, as well as the master’s degree needed for full certification.
In return, the recipients would commit to teach science or math in New York public schools for a minimum of five years—with an extra $10,000 bonus for those who agree to teach in inner-city or rural school districts.
“We are very encouraged by the actions to date this year on this issue,” Reinfurt said. “Governor Pataki has proposed a scholarship program with the same objective in mind as ours—increasing the supply and quality of math and science teachers. His goal of having New York State be the nation’s leader in increasing the number of math, science and engineering graduates is one we embrace and applaud.”
“Encouraged as we are by the common objectives of the various proposals, and, the similar approach incorporated in their design, there are two fundamental differences in our approach which I would like to call to the committee’s attention,” Reinfurt said.
The first fundamental difference between the various proposals deals with eligibility. The Council feels that scholarships should be awarded on merit, Reinfurt said. “We need to attract our best students to teaching careers in math and science. No greater testament to this approach can be given that the demonstrated success of CUNY’s Honors Academy approach. Chancellor Goldstein and the CUNY board were absolutely right in targeting its programs at recruiting the best of New York City’s high school students.”
Reinfurt said the scholarships should also be substantial to give students the career influencing incentive to become a math and science teacher. “Motivating and educating these students, thousands of whom are students of need not being properly educated today by a certified math or science teacher, will be the lasting legacy of this program,” Reinfurt said.
As part of its efforts to reverse the declining number of students entering into science and math based fields, the Council is also proposing a 50 percent tax credit for individual or corporate contributions to scholarships in math, science and engineering given to New York students attending New York colleges, Reinfurt said.
Reinfurt said the Council would also like to work with the Board of Regents, state Labor Department and legislature to providing more career information to students to enhance their knowledge about the opportunities that await them in these and other technology fields.