In 2007 a panel of business leaders and academics organized by the National Academy of Sciences published a report expressing alarm over the state of math and science education in the U.S. That same year, the National Math and Science Initiative was organized as a nonprofit to actually do something about the problem. Starting with an initial donation of $125 million from ExxonMobil, and evidence that Advanced Placement courses are the best way to prepare students for success in technical fields, NMSI set out to make A.P. classes mainstream. Organizers copied a program from Dallas (also created by concerned business donors) that had proven wildly successful at drawing new students and teachers into A.P. coursework and then helping them succeed. Before the model program was launched only 26 African-American students in the entire Dallas school district earned a passing score on an A.P. exam. Within a few years, over 1,100 did. Other groups of students flourished in similar ways.
NMSI set out to make A.P. success common across the country by relying on two techniques in particular: special supplemental summer training for math and science teachers, and financial incentives for both teachers and students. When a new school enters NMSI, program leaders conduct site visits to identify which teachers at the school best fit the program. Then they train the teachers over the summer, and mentor them throughout the school year. And at the end of the year teachers are given cash payments of $100 for every one of their students who passes an A.P. exam, plus a $1,000 bonus if a targeted number of students earn passing scores. Students likewise get a $100 cash reward if they pass the test.
All NMSI schools must allow every interested student the opportunity to take an A.P. class. “Teachers have to think differently about who is an A.P. kid,” says a spokeswoman. In addition to carefully prepping the teachers and incentivizing instructors and students alike, NMSI offers students in the program extra study sessions outside of class hours. The nonprofit also offers longer-term curricular help to schools, bringing in specialists who advise on the best sequence of classes, starting back at sixth grade, to prepare students for A.P. success by the time they’re in high school.
As of 2015, NMSI’s A.P. initiative was used in 620 schools located in 26 states. Companies like ExxonMobil, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Texas Instruments, and many others, plus institutions like the Carnegie Corporation, and Gates, Dell, Heinz, and Perot foundations, as well as individual donors, have made this possible by providing large contributions to both the national nonprofit and local schools that are implementing the program.
And results have been dramatic. In the average school participating in NMSI, the number of passing scores on math and science A.P. exams jumps 85 percent in the first year, and nearly triples by the end of year three. Though schools using NMSI’s A.P. program are only 1.5 percent of the total schools in the U.S., they account for 7.4 percent of the country’s overall increase in qualifying math, science, and English A.P. exam scores. As NMSI continues to expand rapidly, the lift it produces under our math and science wings will increasingly be felt nationally. The latest add-on to the program, thanks to $900,000 of initial funding from Lockheed Martin, extended NMSI to several dozen schools near military bases that serve military families. Almost immediately these schools saw their qualifying A.P. scores rise at nine times the national average.
NMSI has also led the national replication of a University of Texas program called UTeach that makes it easy for college students majoring in math and science fields to become teachers. The UTeach program now operates on 40 college campuses, and more than 7,000 collegians are enrolled. Five years after entering the teaching profession, eight out of ten UTeachers are still giving math and science lessons to children. By 2020, about 5 million students will have been influenced by a UTeach graduate.