By Ramon Torrecilha
July 6, 2018 at 5:00 am ET
When it comes to teacher training at the college and graduate levels, it is, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times for public universities.
It is the best of times because, in Massachusetts, we have been able to innovate and create new programs to train a larger number of future science, technology, engineering and math teachers. In fact, we have been able to leverage federal and state grants to expand such offerings and have built a partnership with a nearby community college to accept its education major transfers and bring them through teacher licensure.
The funding source — the National Science Foundation — understands the long-term impact of its dollars allocated in this fashion.
It’s unfortunate that those behind the federal Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform Act do not have that same vision.
What the Trump administration and other supporters of PROSPER (H.R. 4508) fail to see is that it will harm our nation’s competitiveness by eliminating public funding of teacher training at public colleges and universities. It will also thwart vital scholarship funding, which has proven to be beneficial for students in teacher training and all other programs. The bill, introduced in December, is awaiting a vote on the House floor.
While the Trump administration seeks to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States, the reality is that our economy has transitioned to one that is knowledge-based and as such, workers need a higher level of training to be competitive for new economy jobs.
If we truly want to compete with China and other leading economies, we must ensure that our children have continued access to education and that they can excel at STEM. This is nothing new; policymakers have been talking about STEM for years. And the higher education sector has answered the call by creating programs and shifting focus in teacher preparation to STEM.
We cannot, as a nation, excel at STEM if our primary and secondary schools are incapable of teaching it. Pulling the rug out from under STEM infrastructure — as PROSPER would do — will set some young people back who are hoping to gain their degrees and certifications in teacher prep for STEM subjects. Even more importantly, it would leave our nation unable to compete at the level we want and need to if we are to regain and maintain our position as a world leader in technology.
The standard middle class job at the local manufacturing plant no longer exists for the average high school graduate today. And, while those jobs once enabled families to build savings and lead a comfortable lifestyle, they now present a much weaker version of the American dream.
Today’s economy offers little in the way of stability for those without a college education.
We are in a gig economy where jobs or assignments go to those with the most advanced training. That training starts early, with talented STEM teachers who can spark the interest of young students in math and science.
A look at the sectors fueling our economic growth — biotech and the life sciences, robotics, software coding and precision manufacturing, to name a few — shows us the need for a STEM-educated workforce. One of the nation’s largest companies, Amazon.com Inc., has placed the availability of such professionals high among the criteria it will use to determine where its second headquarters, or “HQ2,” will be located.
It all begins with teaching our young people how to become critical thinkers. The ability to problem-solve is just as important as accumulating information. And it starts with training our teachers to develop these skills through undergraduate and graduate programs.
If we want today’s students to prosper tomorrow, we must start by ensuring the defeat of the PROSPER Act. It strips opportunity for existing and future students and for our economy, which depends on well-trained teachers.
Ramon S. Torrecilha, Ph.D., is the president of Westfield State University in Westfield, Mass., and serves on the board of directors for the American Association of State College and Universities.
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