Teach for America at Mizzou recruiter Candace Potter opened a dinner and discussion about the lack of science, technology, engineering and math — known as STEM — skills in grade school education Tuesday night at Memorial Student Union.
The discussion, a part of MU’s Teach for America Week, opened with statistics that showed the disparity in STEM education in the U.S. and touched on the main causes and consequences of the STEM issue.
This is the first time Teach for America at Mizzou has hosted a Teach for America Week, an initiative meant to raise awareness about the organization’s impact in low-income communities across the united states.
About 41 percent of the 15.5 million students growing up in poverty may learn math from a teacher with no qualifications, according to TFA national data. Additionally, only 22 percent of fourth graders in the U.S. are proficient in math.
“Low income schools lack human capital to have math and science teachers who have either certification or a major in a math or science field,” Potter said.
A great number of TFA’s teachers teach STEM related subjects, Brittany Packnett, Teach for America’s executive director for the St Louis area, said TFA teachers are meant to help compensate for the lack of qualified math and science teachers.
“Nationally, Teach for America is the largest single provider of STEM educators, Packnett said. “Here in St. Louis, out of our almost 200 teachers, almost 60 percent of them are teaching STEM in some form or fashion, from elementary all the way through the twelvth grade.” Packnett said.
Packnett also emphasized the quality of the classes delivered by TFA corps members.
“When you look at data, our teachers often outperform new teachers and veteran teachers, specially in the areas of math and science,” she said.
The U.S. ranks twenty-fifth in math and seventeenth in science out of 31 developed countries according to the International Student Assessment, a worldwide study on math, reading and science among 15-year-old students. Those numbers directly reflect test results from students who come from minority and low-income backgrounds, especially African American, Latino and Native American students, according to Teach for America.
Senior Steven Dickherber and junior Chelsea Tossing also talked about their experience with Teach for America. Both MU students were accepted as corps members and will be teaching in Oklahoma and North Carolina upon graduation.
Potter also talked about her experience with Teach for America, and encouraged students to apply to become corps teachers for the organization.
“Many Mizzou students have that fiery passion that could change the lives of kids living in low-income communities”, she said.
As an organization, Teach for America is committed to fighting education inequality by recruiting recent college graduates with strong backgrounds in different fields, including STEM majors. Students who apply for corps teachers are not required to have an education major, since Teach for America provides teaching training and support networks.
Corps members are required to teach in a low-income community for two years. They are paid a full teacher’s salary and have access to comprehensive health insurance and retirement benefits. TFA has corps teachers working in low-income areas in St. Louis, Mo. and the Kansas City region, but currently there are no corps members teaching in Columbia.
Students interested in social justice and education issues attended the dinner. Senior finance major Kyle Dickherber said he would like to teach students in low-income areas, especially those with disabilities.
“I’ve always thought about education, even when I was coming into college,” Dickherber said. “But, I don’t know, I guess I ended up in the finance area, heard about Teach for America through roommates and friends and thought to myself that it would be a great option for me career-wise if I’m going to try and spend the rest of my life influencing the lives of individuals with disabilities.”