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Projects & Initiatives

About This Report

Improving State Need Assessments of Secondary Science and Mathematics Teachers: Challenges, Possibilities, and Recommendations

Michael B. Allen
March 2010

The project report is presented here as eight interrelated online components or units:

  1. About this Report
  2. Establishing a State’s Current Need for Science and Mathematics Teachers
  3. Projecting a State’s Future Need for Science and Mathematics Teachers
  4. Teacher Quality and Licensure
  5. A Guide to Teacher Data
  6. Research Analysis (pdf download)
  7. Selected Resources
  8. Summary of Basic Steps for Developing Supply and Demand Estimates

Four units can be considered the core of the project:Establishing a State’s Current Need for Science and Mathematics Teachers; Projecting a State’s Future Need for Science and Mathematics Teachers; Teacher Quality and Teacher Licensure; and  A Guide to Teacher Data. The Research Analysis and the Selected Resources are intended to supplement the other units by providing the interested reader with opportunities for further exploration and deeper understanding.


Why This Report?

The Science and Mathematics Teacher Shortage

Concern has grown over the last two decades about the lackluster performance of American students on international assessments of science and mathematics knowledge and the consequent threat to U.S. economic and technological superiority. Contributing to that concern is a documented shortage of well-trained K-12 science and mathematics teachers, a shortage which numerous reports over several decades insist must be addressed as a key to producing an adequately skilled and knowledgeable workforce for the future. The most prominent of the recent reports in this genre, the 2007 National Academies’ publication Rising Above the Gathering Storm calls for the U.S. to add “10,000 more mathematics and science teachers annually.” Motivated in some cases by this striking figure and in other cases responding to more localized estimates of the dearth of science and mathematics teachers, policymakers and the leaders of the colleges and universities that prepare teachers have variously committed to doubling or tripling or quadrupling the number of science and mathematics teachers the institutions graduate.

The Gathering Storm estimate is indeed compelling, though perhaps a little less so when we consider that there are approximately 450,000 teachers1 in the U.S. whose main teaching field is science or mathematics. And the institutional commitments to step up teacher production are laudable and important, though again perhaps somewhat less impressive, when we consider that quadrupling the number of physics teachers produced annually by the entire University System of Georgia, for example, would increase the total from 3 to 12.2 The absence of context, especially the absence of reliable estimates of need, makes it impossible to judge the validity of dire warnings about the shortage of science and mathematics teachers and the adequacy of commitments to address it.

The Importance of State Need Assessments

For various reasons, the estimates of teacher need must be carried out at the state level. In the first place, although the shortage of science and mathematics teachers is a national problem, the severity and specific details of that problem ultimately are manifest in states and especially in districts. Some states and districts have a more acute need than others. Some states may be especially short on chemistry teachers and some on biology teachers. Some states may be net exporters of mathematics teachers even though their rural districts still have a shortage, while other states may turn to foreign countries to import teachers (whose heavily accented English often makes them difficult for many students to understand).

Second, it is ultimately the states that must address their teacher supply and demand problems because ensuring an adequate basic education is their constitutional responsibility. States must assess their need for science and mathematics teachers, and they must develop appropriate measures to respond to it. These measures include marshalling the cooperation of public institutions, which in turn require accurate estimates of need in order to allocate and justify the changes in resources and expenditures that will be involved. An adequate response to a state’s shortage of science and mathematics teachers may necessitate regional cooperation among states or assistance from the federal government. Nevertheless, it is the individual states themselves that can most effectively employ the levers of governance and fiscal policy to provide incentives and to hold their public institutions of higher education and local school districts accountable for responding to the identified need for teachers.

Third, as the present project hopes to make clear through the several units that comprise the online project report, the determination of teacher need and supply is not a purely mathematical calculation that can be derived in the absence of a discussion of priorities and possibilities that is singularly appropriate at the state level. The ability to determine the adequacy of a state’s teacher workforce in science and mathematics rests on a number of considerations that require a state perspective:
• An assessment of the quality of teachers in the workforce
• An evaluation of the effectiveness of state licensure requirements and district placement, staff development, and promotion practices in ensuring that teachers have solid qualifications

  • An assessment of the effectiveness of these and other policies in ensuring that all schools throughout the state are staffed by well-qualified teachers
  • Decisions about the appropriate size of classes and other assumptions about capacity-related norms of instruction, e.g., whether teachers’ workloads should include more time for curriculum planning and consultation with colleagues, whether elementary school teachers should be generalists or subject specialists, whether the remote or online delivery of high-quality instructional content might be a solution for the acute teacher shortage problem in fields like physics
  • Attention to the state’s economic development needs and the kind of knowledge its students will require for participation in the workforce of the future.

These are all concerns that beg for a state-level consensus among education, political, and community leaders.

Shortcomings of State Need Estimates

Many states regularly undertake a supply and demand assessment of their science and mathematics teacher workforce. Relatively few states apply the most rigorous available methods in developing their assessments, however, let alone attempt an analysis that includes attention to the more normative considerations just noted. States may have a count of classes in science and mathematics that are currently taught by teachers who are teaching out of their field. They may have surveyed school principals and district superintendents to find out whether any of them report particular difficulty in hiring science and mathematics teachers. And they may have projected a decline or increase in the need for teachers based on projections of population growth. A small number of states may have included the impact of increased high school graduation requirements in science and mathematics on their demand estimates for teachers. Very few states, however, have data that are truly reliable – especially if they depend upon independent and often flawed information from schools and districts.

Current assessments of state teacher supply are generally even less adequate than estimates of demand. Only a handful of states have synthesized enough reliable data from multiple sources to gain an accurate picture of the overall quality of their science and mathematics teachers and the comparative quality between districts. Although all states can develop summary reports about the licensure and certification status of their teachers, few states ask deeper questions about the extent to which their licensure practices and policies truly ensure the competence of their teachers in science and mathematics. Many states understand that their teacher supply in science and mathematics is critically low, but few are as thorough as California3 in undertaking a comprehensive look at their current and prospective sources of science and mathematics teachers and in analyzing the strengths, weaknesses, and possible “fixes” of every link in the pipeline. And although a number of states and districts now employ financial incentives to attract and retain teachers – especially to high-need subjects and schools – few states have systematically analyzed the impact of local and regional labor market conditions on the state’s supply of science and mathematics teachers and their persistence, migration, and attrition.

Urgency of This Project

The lack of sophisticated, thorough, and reliable analysis of teacher supply and demand is not a minor shortcoming. It is a serious threat to our nation's ability to respond successfully to the situation in science and mathematics education that so many of our leaders decry. Policymakers and education leaders simply cannot solve a problem they diagnose incompletely or imprecisely. An effective response to the call for appropriately trained science and mathematics teachers depends both upon an accurate assessment of the teacher needs of states and districts and upon the willingness and capacity of the institutions responsible for recruiting, preparing, and developing teachers to meet the needs identified.

The fact of the matter, however, is that policymakers and education leaders are indeed moving forward in their efforts to address whatever they perceive as the shortage of mathematics and science teachers and with a national sense of resolve and a level of activity unseen since America’s response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957. The America COMPETES Act, for example, which was signed into law in 2007, calls for hundreds of millions of dollars for K-12 teacher preparation programs in mathematics and science as well as scholarships and stipends for students entering them. More recently, President Obama has announced a $250 million initiative specifically to improve science and mathematics instruction, including the production of 10,000 new science and mathematics teachers over the next five years. It thus becomes imperative to act now both to gain a truly accurate understanding of the problem and to develop the appropriate solutions to it. And that is precisely what the present project was intended to facilitate through the publication of this report.

The project grew out of a major initiative launched by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (A.P.L.U.), with support from the Carnegie Corporation and the National Science Foundation. Trying to take advantage of the unique historical opportunity and momentum, the initiative – called the Science and Mathematics Teaching Imperative (SMTI) supports the efforts of A.P.L.U.’s public university members to enlarge their commitment to produce K-12 science and mathematics teachers with strong qualifications. The present project was funded by the National Science Foundation as an independent part of the SMTI initiative.  

 

Project Focus, Objectives, and Limitations

Focus and Objectives

The focus of this project is the supply and demand of secondary school science and mathematics teachers. This is because it is the science and mathematics teacher shortage at the secondary level that is of particular concern nationwide. Indeed, there appears not to be a national shortage of elementary school teachers at the present time. And although there may indeed be a serious scarcity of elementary teachers who are sufficiently well-qualified to teach science and mathematics effectively at a level that meets our highest expectations and standards, this is an issue lying beyond the scope of this project.

The project had several objectives:

  1. Undertake a thorough analysis of the technical issues surrounding state-level supply and demand assessments for middle and high school science and mathematics teachers
  2. Identify the extent to which the current research base can inform efforts to improve these supply and demand estimates
  3. Develop guidelines, grounded in the research insofar as possible, to help state officials, education leaders, and other stakeholders appraise the adequacy of their current need estimates of science and mathematics teachers and develop estimates that are more thorough and reliable. 

From the beginning, the third objective was considered to be the central contribution of the project. It was – and still is – hoped that the prospect of having more reliable assessments of states’ needs for science and mathematics teachers would provide encouragement to state officials and education leaders not only to undertake such assessments but to use them as the basis for developing statewide efforts to address the needs identified. Consistent, however, with the purpose (“exploratory research”) for which the grant for the project was given, the project report is as much a summary of findings of the author’s exploration as it is a practical guide. Indeed, an appreciation of the challenges and opportunities confronting the effort to develop reliable teacher supply and demand assessments is critical for understanding the justification of the guidelines and recommendations that are offered.

Limitations

There are limitations, however, to what any effort to improve estimates and projections of teacher supply and demand can accomplish. Forecasting supply and demand in any labor field can never be an exact science. For one thing, it involves predictions about the future, and even the near term involves uncertainties that only increase the farther into the future we project. For another, analyses that may reliably identify or predict overall trends at a national or state level often fail to capture local realities (e.g., a uniquely local shortage of teachers in a certain subject) that may be statistically anomalous in the larger picture.

Likewise, determinations of teacher demand and of the adequacy of the teacher supply are inherently imprecise because they involve a number of the value-laden or other contingent considerations we noted earlier:
1. The acceptability of the quality of the teachers currently in the classroom or available to be hired
2. The courses needed in the school curriculum to achieve desired educational outcomes
3. The appropriate class size and other features that define state or district norms of teaching practice
4. The labor market for teachers, which can fluctuate due both to exogenous factors (e.g., increases or decreases in salaries in other professions) and to the deliberate manipulation of teacher compensation or opportunity costs (e.g., easing entry into the profession).

Finally, although, in the abstract, greater reliability is always preferable, the effort to increase the accuracy of supply and demand estimates by making improvements in a state’s teacher data or by devoting more resources to ensuring statistical rigor may run up against limits of cost-effectiveness. The priority of such improvements and the extent of the resources that can be committed to them are decisions that state officials will have to make


Acknowledgments

This project was made possible by the generosity of the National Science Foundation and the assistance of many individuals. Howard Gobstein and Charles Coble, who co-direct A.P.L.U.’s Science and Mathematics Teaching Imperative (SMTI), inspired the project in the first place, gave it a home, and nurtured and helped to shape it throughout. Janice Earle, the project’s program officer at NSF, encouraged and championed the project from the start.

Several individuals contributed substantively to sections of the project report. Steven Raphael wrote the project’s Research Analysis and provided invaluable guidance and instruction on technical issues of statistical and econometric methodology. Paul Lingenfelter gave kind permission for this project to produce and include a summary of a SHEOO report on teacher data written by Richard Voorhees and Gary Barnes, to whom gratitude is therefore also due.

Many people provided invaluable insight and technical expertise. Ben Passmore was an indispensible “reality check,” offering significant advice and support in his role as a state policy researcher charged with the development of precisely the kind of supply and demand projections that are the project’s focus. Nancy Shapiro contributed expertise, enthusiasm, and perspective to the project from beginning to end. Rolf Blank and William Hussar shared insights and expertise that helped to shape the project early on, and the report also benefits from their important publications in the field. Rolf, along with Edward Crowe, also provided invited critical review for portions of the draft report. And a number of individuals helped to define the project in its early stages and generously shared their wisdom and expertise: Jennifer Presley, Susanna Loeb, Judy Jeffrey, Martin Orland, Mark Pevey, Herbert Brunkhorst, Tim Dahl, Christopher Roe, John Winn, and Theodore Hodapp.

Roger Sampson generously made opportunities available to elicit suggestions and comments from state officials and education leaders at annual meetings of the Education Commission of the States. Kathy Christie and the ECS Information Clearinghouse were equally generous in providing on-demand information about state policies and practices. Joyce Williams furnished essential and efficient administrative support. Finally, Rick Griffith, together with his top-notch staff at Matter design studio, took dull print on pages and turned it into the engaging and highly functional web document that is the final product.

Michael Allen was the project director and the author of this report.

The report is based upon work funded by the National Science Foundation as a Small Grant for Exploratory Research (SGER), award number 0802359. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the various sections of the report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Endnotes

1. National Science Board. (2008). Science and Engineering Indicators 2008. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, p 1-26. Accessed at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind08/

2. Science Group Bids to Boost Physics Teachers. All Things Considered. Narr. Susanna Capelouto. NPR. Georgia Public Broadcasting, Atlanta. 16 March 2009. Accessed at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=101963216

3. See Critical Path Analysis of California’s Science and Mathematics Teacher Preparation System. (2007, March). Sacramento, CA: California Council on Science and Technology and The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning. Accessed at http://www.ccst.us/publications/2007/2007TCPA.php.