Forty years ago, American students ranked first in the world.

Now one-third of students drop out of high school, and another third aren’t ready for college when they graduate, says Prof. Eric Klopfer. “A lot of data show that the country has fallen behind. We need to catch up to stay competitive in a global economy.”

Klopfer is director of MIT’s Scheller Teacher Education Program, which offers MIT undergraduates a teacher certification program to become science and math teachers in grades 5-12. Offered through the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, the 15-year-old program licenses a dozen students a year to become teachers, while about 50 others participate in the program’s classes.

“The goal is to make a difference not in numbers of teachers, but in quality of teachers, and to bring the MIT spirit to teachers everywhere,”he says. “I think we’re moving the needle a little bit in that regard.”

Klopfer works with teachers across the country and the world to change their practices and bring the “MIT experience” to their classrooms by developing new technologies and curricula, particularly new simulations and games for learning science and math.

The son of educators, Klopfer earned a Ph.D. in biology but decided to abandon the field for teaching. “There is a desperate need for good math and science teachers,” he says, adding that he hoped to make a difference.

“People look to MIT as the place for math and science learning in the country,” he says. “With this program, we’re shining a light on education. We hope that this growing awareness ultimately will impact change.”