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The Value of Teaching

In "Promotion and Tenure and the Scholarship of Teaching" Howard Shapiro (2006) describes the attitude of most academic institutions, particularly research universities, toward teaching. "The energetic people we hire into tenure-track positions at research universities are smart—that’s why we hire them. They notice that goals for undergraduate programs—developing critical thinking, increasing a respect [for] diversity, and so on—are rarely defined as crisply as the institutions’ research aspirations: to have five programs in the National Research Council’s top 10, to double the number of professors in the national academies, etc. And they realize right away that their time is finite and that it’s a zero-sum game. When it comes down to writing one more journal article or grant proposal or joining in an innovative curriculum project in their discipline, why take a chance?"

This devaluation of teaching persists despite the evidence that poor college teaching is turning students away from science (Seymour and Hewitt, 1997; Tanner and Allen, 2004; Tobias, 1990) , and teacher quality at all levels of education is a key predictor of student success (Tanner and Allen, 2006). On the other hand, as competition for students, especially high-quality students, increases, the need for an academic institution to provide engaging educational experiences whose value is obvious to students and their parents is receiving greater attention. That is, economic forces may be beginning to drive changes in the emphasis from merely teaching to achieving meaningful learning outcomes. Because, as outlined below, community engagement and outreach activities can affect student learning, economic forces may lead to greater acceptance of and support for educator-scientist partnerships.

Still, for the present, given the current subordinate position of teaching to research in universities, it’s not surprising that few seem to truly embrace K-12 education initiatives. Indeed if expenditures are taken as a rough gauge of how much an institution values an activity, most academic institutions value K-12 education outreach very little. Nevertheless, a number of public and private universities and research institutes around the country provide outstanding support for K-12 science education. Some have developed and operate their own dynamic outreach programs, others support investigator-initiated programs by supplying personnel and logistical support, while still others do both. There must be value in these relationships or else no university would bother.

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