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

The Dana Center, UTeach and WeTeach_CS partnering on joint initiative supported by Microsoft

June 16, 2020

Teacher and students using laptops

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, 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.

“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.

“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.

About the Dana Center

At the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin, we are passionate about ensuring all students—including those who are Black, Latinx, Native American, or come from low-income backgrounds—have access to excellent math and science education. From kindergarten through postsecondary, we believe every student deserves the same opportunity to experience the joy of learning mathematics and science that are relevant to their futures and set them on a path toward upward social and economic mobility. That’s why we work at every level of the educational system—from local K–12 districts and two- and four-year institutions, all the way through statewide education systems and legislative policy. Every day our staff of more than 70 professionals bring this passion to life, with innovative ideas and research-based best practices in pedagogy, curriculum, instruction, and professional learning. We do so in a spirit of collaboration, partnership, and innovation, knowing that together, we can make a difference.  

About UTeach

UTeach at The University of Texas at Austin is an innovative university-based teacher preparation program that increases the number of qualified STEM teachers in U.S. secondary schools. We get secondary students excited about STEM because their teachers are passionate, prepared, and connected to a community of like-minded educators. Since 1997, we have been grounded in our local community through collaborative initiatives with hundreds of local teachers, dozens of nonprofit organizations, and thousands of local K-12 and post-secondary students.  We are connected to the nation through a national network of 45 UTeach colleges and universities—10 in Texas—working together to improve STEM teaching and learning in the U.S.

About WeTeach_CS

WeTeach_CS educates, empowers, and inspires K–12 CS teachers, administrators, professional development providers, and university instructors to realize the vision of computer science for all. The Expanding Pathways in Computing (EPIC) group at The University of Texas at Austin's Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) serves as the backbone organization for the WeTeach_CS collective impact network, which serves hundreds of districts, schools, and educators in Texas and across the nation. WeTeach_CS is dedicated to broadening participation in computing for every student regardless of race, gender, income, or location and leverages the TACC's internationally recognized computing expertise to guide strategic improvement in computing education at a state and national level. Since September 2015, WeTeach_CS has supported over 500 Texas educators to achieve certification in Grade 8–12 Computer Science, more than doubling the capacity of Texas schools to provide high-quality CS courses to their students.

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