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Obama turns to 'master teachers' to improve US math scores

Two-thirds of US 8th-graders are below proficiency in math and science. President Obama's new attempt to reverse the trend involves cultivating master teachers to train other teachers. 

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President Obama speaks to graduating seniors from the Science Leadership Academy, a partnership between the Philadelphia School District and the Franklin Institute, last month in Philadelphia.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File

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To ratchet up math and science achievement in American schools, President Obama announced Wednesday a plan to create a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Master Teacher Corps.

The $1 billion plan is dependent on Congress approving the president’s budget plan. While the investment would be significant, improving science and math teaching has been a longstanding challenge, and the plan is not a silver bullet, education experts say.

Initially, 50 master teachers would mentor fellow teachers in 50 sites around the country. Over four years, the corps would expand to 10,000 teachers who earn up to $20,000 on top of their base annual salary in exchange for their expertise and leadership.

“Symbolically it’s very meaningful,” says Elena Silva, a senior associate in the Washington office of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. “Whether we look back 10 years from now and say this really made the difference, our kids are performing better, it’s difficult to say.”

That’s partly because research into what kinds of supports most improve teaching is still under way.

With about two-thirds of 8th graders below proficiency in math and science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and many students dropping out of community colleges because they can’t get past remedial math courses, there’s no lack of consensus about the need to boost such skills. 

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