Effective Math and Science Program Making Big Leap in Colorado High Schools

Raise your hand if you agree with me that the USA — and Colorado in particular — can do a better job preparing enough students for success in the areas science, math and technology. Don’t worry about feeling self-conscious if you are in a room with other people. If you can’t overcome it, at least mentally raise your hand. That’s right. If you agree with me, and I don’t see how you couldn’t, then you should be excited by some news I have to share.

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) is a four-year-old program (younger than me!) that has demonstrated successful results in increasing the number of students who pass Advanced Placement (AP) exams in math and science, particularly among underprivileged students. The Colorado Legacy Foundation has reported similar positive results here in our state for the seven schools who participated in a less-than-fully-vamped version of the program in 2010-11.

The news? The effective math and science program is expanding dramatically in Colorado:

But it’s still unclear how well the National Math and Science Initiative’s AP program could work in Colorado because some incentives — such as payments to students who get high scores — were dropped when Colorado didn’t get federal Race to the Top funds to fully implement the program in 2010-2011. Educators are waiting to hear whether grant money will be available to expand it in coming years.

The program, which originated in Dallas, aims to expand access to tough AP classes to lower-income students, Hispanics and African Americans, and to help them pass AP tests administered by the College Board. It uses a mix of teacher training, open enrollment in AP classes, and $100 for teachers and students for each passing score.

Sources assure me that $1.5 million has been raised from a number of generous private sources, ensuring a $15 million federal matching grant for the full-fledged program in 30 Colorado high schools representing 14 different districts–including Denver Public Schools, Mesa Valley 51 (Grand Junction), Cherry Creek, Littleton and Eagle County. Given the track records out there, this news is potentially a big thing.

Working very closely with NMSI is the nonprofit organization Laying the Foundation, which focuses on preparing middle and high school teachers to provide rigorous and engaging instruction that promotes student success in the AP program. This video from Ruston High School in Louisiana gives an example of the organization’s effective work. Also noteworthy: LTF’s chief executive officer is the same Dave Saba who once appeared in a former role on an iVoices podcast about alternative teacher licensure.

Small world, isn’t it? Just in case you’re concerned, I am resisting any and all urges to start singing the song that has made Disneyland famous. No need to cause a stir, when the news I’m sharing today should cause a much better kind of stir. Best wishes for success on the Advanced Placement Teacher Incentive Program to the Legacy Foundation, NMSI, LTF, and the Colorado teachers and students they reach.