It’s a problem faced by many elementary teachers, they have a specific area of expertise with a broader teaching knowledge that allows them to teach the wide range of subjects found in elementary curriculum. While this is a perfectly acceptable method for teaching elementary students, teachers often report feeling more comfortable teaching some subjects over others.
To combat this skills gap, some educators return to school for continuing education and professional development. Additional education and professional development workshops usually require a large investment of time and money; something teachers are often short of. In Omaha, 2 groups are partnering to help educators hone their skills.
Earlier this year, Katie Almgren was like a lot of schoolteachers.
She had her subjects she felt comfortable teaching, and she had the one she didn’t like as much: math.
But Almgren, a second-grade teacher at Omaha’s Indian Hill Elementary School, wasn’t planning on going back to school again; she already had a master’s degree in elementary education.
Last week, though, thanks to a grant from two Omaha foundations, Almgren was taking free, graduate-level courses to become a better math teacher.
The Sherwood Foundation and the Lozier Foundation have partnered to give a $5.5 million grant to help improve math student achievement in the Omaha Public Schools.
The three-year grant, which was announced Monday, aims to boost student achievement by boosting their teachers’ education. It is paying for:
» At least 140 K-3 teachers to take six classes in math instruction.
» 64 grades 4-8 teachers to get their master’s degrees in math instruction.
» 360 spots for K-12 teachers to take various classes in math instruction.
Faculty from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and other area colleges are teaching the graduate-level classes with help from OPS’s best math teachers.
The students — OPS teachers — don’t have to travel far, either. All the classes are being taught at the OPS’s central offices, 3215 Cuming St.
The grant also will fund eight OPS math coaching positions and pay for UNL researchers to examine what good the grant does, including its effects on student achievement.
“We can’t say enough about math skills,” OPS Superintendent Mark Evans said Monday.
Evans and UNL officials, including Chancellor Harvey Perlman, attended Monday’s announcement at OPS headquarters.
OPS has struggled, compared with other Nebraska districts, on state math tests. For example, about 59 percent of OPS third-graders scored proficient or better on the state math test last year. Statewide, that number was almost 72 percent. The district also has more students who live in poverty compared with most Nebraska districts. Those students typically perform worse than their more-affluent peers.
Math struggles, though, happen in most districts. Students across the state consistently perform better on state reading tests than they do on state math tests.
In fact, Nebraska math teachers, including 75 OPS instructors, have been taking classes for the past four years to help get better at teaching math, all paid for with $18 million in federal grants UNL has received.
Almost all of those grant dollars, though, had been spent or were close to being spent, said Jim Lewis, a UNL math professor and director of the Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education.
The new grant dollars will continue to fund Primarily Math for K-3 teachers, Math in the Middle (the master’s degree program) for grades 4-8 teachers and individual classes. But instead of teachers across the state taking such courses, only OPS teachers will enroll.