UT $10 Million NSF Grant Helps Rural Math Education

KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee will serve as the regional center for a $10 million initiative to improve mathematics teaching and education in rural and disadvantaged areas.

UT Education Dean Glennon Rowell said the Appalachian Collaborative Center for Learning, Assessment, and Instruction in Mathematics, or ACCLAIM, is a partnership of UT, the universities of Kentucky and Louisville, Ohio and Marshall universities and the Appalachian Rural Systemic Initiative.

ACCLAIM — one of ten Centers for Learning and Teaching funded under a $100 million National Science Foundation plan –seeks to improve mathematics education in isolated rural schools and boost math faculty teaching throughout the region, Rowell said.

“NSF recognizes the tremendous need for improvement in education, especially in Appalachian rural areas where students do not have the same resources and educational background that others have,” Rowell said. “This center will help improve teaching in these particular areas. We are very happy to be a part of that.”

Dr. Vena Long, UT professor of education, said the UT Math Department also is a key ACCLAIM partner. Planned programs include online courses to encourage advanced degrees in math education; professional development for high school math and science teachers; support for math and math education faculty at universities and colleges; and more research on teaching math in rural areas.

“In general, rural areas have a harder time attracting and holding qualified teachers,” Long said. “That is one of the factors contributing to lower achievement in math and science for rural areas.

“With this grant, we will be able to do more research on this problem and find more ways to reach children who have a difficult time learning mathematics. It will give us the resources we need to really go into these schools and work with teachers in rural areas.”

Rowell said UT would take a leadership role in preparing math educators at the doctoral level. UT currently has 11 doctoral students in math education and hopes to increase that number, he said. The doctoral curriculum also will be expanded to include more courses in rural education and rural sociology, he said.

The NSF reports that about a third of math teachers and 20 percent of science teachers in grades 7-12 have neither a major nor minor in their teaching field.

More than half of faculty at universities with doctoral programs in math education are eligible for retirement in two years and almost 80 percent are eligible in 10 years, the agency reports.

NSF Director Rita Colwell said the new centers would help encourage students to go into research and teaching in science and math, creating a new source of faculty with fresh ideas and talents.

“By working with local school systems, this initiative will reshape the learning of thousands of students all over the country,” Colwell said.