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KNOXVILLE — A program designed to improve rural math education has graduated its first student.

Caroline Best of Maryville is the first doctoral candidate to complete the program through the Appalachian Collaborative Center for Learning, Assessment and Instruction in Mathematics (ACCLAIM), a National Science Foundation Center for Learning and Teaching of which the University of Tennessee is the lead school.

Best, who is program coordinator of developmental math at Pellissippi State Community College, this week defended her dissertation, “Community College Students’ Perceptions of Their Rural High School Mathematics Experience.”

Best is one of 14 students in ACCLAIM’s first class.

Created with a $10 million grant from the NSF in September 2001, ACCLAIM is a collaboration of UT and four other institutions, the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, Ohio University and West Virginia University. The doctoral program consists of three years of extensive coursework in mathematics, mathematics education, rural sociology and research methodologies, followed by research leading to a dissertation. Academic year courses are delivered via distance and a summer session provides face-to-face instruction.

ACCLAIM’s first class began in 2002.

“Across the nation, mathematics education is suffering from low achievement and from a scarcity of teachers at all levels,” said Vena Long, association dean and professor in UT’s College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. Long is one of four UT mathematics education professors who work with ACCLAIM.

According to the National Science Foundation, 50 percent of college faculty who teach math education will retire in two years and 80 percent will retire in 10 years. That is likely to lead to a shortage of math teachers and translate into lower student test scores, especially in rural areas where teacher recruitment is most difficult.

ACCLAIM’s missions include improving mathematics education in rural areas and addressing the need for more doctorates in science, technology, engineering and math.

“ACCLAIM is designed to give participants the opportunity to pursue an advanced degree emphasizing the teaching and learning of mathematics in a rural setting, and it does so without requiring them to leave work and family for long periods,” Long said.

Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034,
Vena Long, (865) 974-5973,