Public Release: 

Presidential Awards Recognize The World's Best Teaching

National Science Foundation

The classroom practices and professional development of teachers who earn a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) -- the nation's highest honor for K-12 educators -- more resemble their peers in nations that score high on international comparisons than those of many of their U.S. colleagues.

The results of a random survey of former presidential awardees, conducted for the National Science Foundation (NSF) by Horizon Research, Inc. of Chapel Hill, N.C., are particularly timely for the 107 elementary teachers who received their 1996 awards today at the National Academy of Sciences.

"These outstanding teachers have dedicated themselves to insuring that all children, not just the 'best and brightest,' are challenged to excel in science and math," said Neal Lane, NSF's director. NSF administers PAEMST for the White House.

The presidential awards were bestowed in the same week as a new international comparison was released which showed that science and math learning in U.S. fourth-graders is improving. NSF attributed this finding to better classroom teaching.

On June 10, NSF and the U.S. Department of Education jointly released findings from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) which showed U.S. fourth-graders performing above international averages in both math and science. In science, U.S. students were in the top group of equally high scoring nations behind only Korea.

"Factors such as the amount of television watching, class size and time spent in school cannot explain student performance. What really matters is the quality of the day-to-day interaction between teachers and students around a coherent curriculum," Luther S. Williams, NSF's head of education and human resources noted in reviewing the TIMSS report.

A comprehensive survey comparing the professional preparation and classroom practices of 930 past presidential awardees with those of a random sample of 2,605 math and science teachers shows that differences between those two groups often are quite dramatic.

Those differences, officials said, may have important implications in the effort to achieve excellence in all classrooms by pointing to known factors and practices that can help to improve the quality of teaching.

The survey found that PAEMST teachers:

  • devote more personal time to professional development;

  • avoid textbook-based teaching;

  • are far more likely to use computers and other technologies in their classrooms.

Horizon Research, Inc.'s survey of 930 past winners of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) compared their responses with those of a random sample of 2,065 math and science teachers. The results show dramatic differences in teaching style and professional development.

According to the survey:

  • Only 17 percent of award-winning science teachers and 22 percent of award-winning math teachers in grades 1-6 said they consider textbooks a "major influence" on what they teach. By contrast, 59 percent of the national sample of elementary science teachers and 79 percent of math teachers overall felt that way.

  • More than four out of ten award-winning elementary science teachers, and 36 percent of award-winning math teachers, either hold a degree or a college minor in those fields, compared with only 7 percent of the national sample of teachers.

  • More than three out of four award-winning elementary math and science teachers spent at least 35 hours on in-service education in the past three years, compared with just 12 percent of those who teach grades 1-6 nationally. And award-winning elementary teachers were roughly nine times more likely to take part in professional activities such as attending professional association meetings or teaching outside workshops or courses for other teachers.

  • Seventy-two percent of elementary science awardees said they have "strong control" over setting curricular goals and objectives, compared with 30 percent of their peers. Strong majorities of award-winning math and science teachers also said they have strong control over selecting instructional material, teaching techniques, and setting the pace for lessons.

  • By an overwhelming 93 percent to 10 percent margin, far more Presidential Award-winning elementary math teachers said they were well aware of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' standards. Award-winners indicated they were more inclined than their peers to integrate math and science with other subjects. They were also much more likely to endorse the use of computers and calculators, and emphasize hands-on learning, problem solving and reasoning over rote exercises or standardized tests.


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