Summer vacation has begun for students across our state. Their thoughts have turned from studying for tests to swimming at the neighborhood pool (unless there’s a summer job!). Summer reading lists and math review packets keep learned skills honed until school begins again in August. These students represent the future of our nation and our state. As parents, we want the best for our children, and that includes the best education. And next to parental support and involvement, nothing is more important to a child’s educational success than good teachers in the classroom.
Quality education, development of career skills, and preparation of our students for adult life require good teachers. Attracting, encouraging, and rewarding exceptional teachers is pivotal to our children’s and nation’s future. The Center for Public Education noted that after more than two decades of research findings, there is an "unequivocal connection between teacher quality and student learning."
Since my earliest days in public service, education has been a passion and priority. I wanted to help bring more qualified teachers into our local classrooms. One area of particular concern continues to be the lack of math and science teachers who actually majored in these fields. Today, many American middle and high school mathematics and science teachers are teaching topics that are outside their own primary fields of study. While a U.S. high school student has a 70 percent likelihood of being taught English by a teacher with a degree in English, there is only a 40 percent chance of learning chemistry from a teacher who majored in chemistry.
One program that has been tremendously successful in addressing this issue is UTeach, which started in 1997 at the University of Texas at Austin. This innovative program enables college students who major in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) to be concurrently certified as elementary and secondary school teachers. The UTeach program has effectively produced more high school teachers with degrees in STEM fields and become the national benchmark for teaching excellence.
Last year, I was able to include a provision in the America COMPETES Act that replicates the UTeach program, and enables colleges and universities around the country to participate. We can now expand the reach of this groundbreaking – and successful – program throughout the nation, and help bring more qualified math and science teachers into our schools to fill a critical need. I was pleased that my legislation was passed by Congress with broad bipartisan support.
But there are other challenges that many American students and their families and schools face each day. In many urban and rural communities, schools have difficulties fully staffing their classrooms. For more than 20 years, Teach for America (TFA) has been making significant inroads by recruiting the best and brightest college graduates from our nation’s top universities to begin their professional lives as teachers for some of the most disadvantaged students in our country. Their work has been particularly successful in helping to close the achievement gap in many schools. TFA currently has teachers working in Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley area schools, and their work has had a tremendous impact on thousands of students, their families and their communities. Ultimately, this innovative approach to recruiting exceptional teachers is changing the future trajectory of thousands of children’s lives.
In order for America to compete globally and face the challenges of the 21st century, a quality education for every child in this country must be a top priority. Good teachers are key to achieving this objective. It is critical that we continue to support the efforts of successful programs like UTeach and Teach for America, as well as other effective approaches that promote, attract, and retain exceptional teachers who can motivate and encourage students to reach their full potential in the classroom and in life.
As savvy farmers know, you can’t eat your seed corn. Likewise, America must continue to invest in and prioritize education and teachers – which are fundamental to the innovation that fuels our economy. Equipping the American workforce to compete successfully in the global economy must begin in the classrooms of our state and across the nation. And in doing so, I am confident that America will remain the best place in the world to live, to work, to think, and to create. Our country’s education and our teachers are the bedrock of America’scontinued exceptionalism. Thank you to all of our nation’s educators whose work is vital to our children’s future and ultimately to the future of our nation.