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UK is part of national push for more math and science teachers

Amid a growing national awareness of the need for more math and science teachers, the University of Kentucky promised to triple the number of educators it produces in those fields over the next five years.

UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. delivered the pledge Wednesday to President Barack Obama as Obama announced new efforts in science, math and technology education.

"We must admit, we are now being outpaced by our competitors," Obama said, adding that the United States ranks 21st in science education and 25th in math globally. "That's not acceptable."

Todd said he spoke briefly with Obama when delivering a letter in which leaders of 121 public universities pledged to increase the number of new math and science teachers to 10,000 from 7,500 by 2015.

At UK, 11 science and 12 math teachers are expected to graduate in May from its one-year program for a master's degree in secondary education with initial teaching certification.

UK leaders hope to increase those numbers to 33 and 36, respectively, by 2015 by encouraging primary and high school students to choose math and science education and by creating more spots in the master's program, said Mary John O'Hair, the dean of UK's college of education. UK also is focusing on professional development for current math and science teachers, she said.

O'Hair recently hired a new professor to bring the math and science education faculty to eight.

The pledge to cultivate more teachers is only part of the equation.

Todd and three other university leaders urged U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other administration officials to focus more federal funds to continue programs that work rather than jumping from one pilot teaching program to another.

"It's all hands on deck — that's how Arne Duncan put it to us," Todd said. "One thing we told Duncan was that we really need you all to be pushing these careers from the top. We have parents who are telling their students that the (math and science) jobs are all going out of the country, so why should you go into those fields?"

And Todd said he told executives from technology companies such as Intel and Texas Instruments that they should use marketing to encourage more young people to go into math and science fields; he cited the ExxonMobil TV commercials featuring golfer Phil Mickelson, whose teaching academy focuses on math and science.

In addition, Todd has a key role with a national initiative called the Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative.

That organization is compiling a catalog of teaching techniques, programs and approaches used to reach out to students.

Also Wednesday, Obama honored more than 100 math and science educators with teaching awards, including two from Kentucky.

They are Kristen Jarboe, who teaches mathematics intervention for primary through third grade at Elkhorn Elementary School in Franklin County, and Keri Dowdy, a fourth grade science teacher at Sedalia Elementary School in Graves County.