Severe shortage of math and science teachers

Maybe Albert Einstein said it best, “Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it.” Apparently, California’s citizens seem to be listening.

In a report released by the California Council on Science and Technology and the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, the state is experiencing a severe shortage of science and mathematics teachers.

The 118-page report, Critical Path Analysis of California’s Science and Mathematics Teacher Preparation System, finds that nearly 40 percent of California’s novice high-school science teachers (those in their first or second year) and 35 percent of beginning science teachers are under-prepared, meaning that they lack the training and experience necessary for a teaching credential in the subject they teach.

“The shortage of fully prepared math and science teachers is undermining the quality of the state’s education system and hampering the ability to produce college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Susan Hackwood, executive director of CCST, in a press release.

Over the next 10 years, the demand for new science and math teachers is expected to rise to over 33,000 people.

If California’s colleges and universities are any indication of what’s to come, the shortage will only grow worse. In 2003, California’s colleges and universities awarded a combined 1,389 mathematics degrees. The total demand for new math teachers that year was exactly 2,131.

Margaret Gaston, executive director of the CFTL, believes that students need to be engaged in math and science at a young age.

“This challenge needs to be approached in kindergarten. We need to have programs that engage and encourage student’s interests in math and science. We have to have well-trained teachers and good curriculum that can be successfully delivered to the students. Without that base, everything else will be tough to do.”

In 1996, California passed the class-reduction size initiative. While research has shown that primary grade students learn better in smaller class sizes, the increased demand for more teachers put a burden on the system.

“We had to get adults into the classrooms very quickly in the mid 1990’s,” Gaston said. “In the 1990s through the beginning of the century, about 20 percent of the teachers were teaching under prepared.”

As the demand for science and math teachers has increased, funding has gone down.

The largest science-related program, the California Science Project, has seen its funding drop 75 percent in the last five years.

Among those expected to be hit the hardest are schools that are low performing with a high minority population. These schools tend to have a higher percentage of under prepared science and math teachers.

In a 2002 report issued by the National Science Foundation, California’s 8th graders scored the lowest in the nation in their knowledge of science and seventh, from last place, in their skill and knowledge of mathematics.
According to the report, strengthening the teaching of math is science is absolutely essential in order for California to maintain its competitive edge and economic growth.

“California literally cannot afford to fail to increase the number and qualifications of math and science teachers in California,” said Lawrence Papay, CCST council chairman, in a press release. “If we are to remain a leader in science, technology, and engineering, if we want to maintain our economic vitality, California must make high quality math and science instruction a top priority.”

Although the study offers some dim numbers, the CFTL and the CCST suggest some possible solutions to counter the severe shortage of math and science teachers. Among the proposed recommendations is the EnCorps Teachers Program, a public-private partnership that encourages retirees to enter the teaching profession in math, science, and career technical education.

“This kind of thinking is new to Californians,” Gaston said. “We have worked closely with Governor Schwarzenegger on EnCorps. The program makes it much easier for retirees to enter the classroom. It was taken out of the budget so at this point, we’ll have to wait and see.”

The entire report, Critical Analysis of California’s Science and Mathematics Teacher Preparation System, can be viewed online.

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