Blog: The Educated Reporter

Is There Really a Shortage of STEM Teachers?

EWA recently held a one-day seminar focused on STEM education at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. We invited some of the journalists attending to contribute blog posts from the sessions. Today’s entry is from reporter Zachary Reid of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. You can find additional resources from the seminar, including materials from many of the presenters, here.

Session: Recruiting and Training STEM Teachers
Teachers with the background and skills to teach science and math effectively are often among the most difficult for schools to recruit and retain. This session examines several initiatives that intend to address this challenge.

Participants: Dale Mezzacappa, Contributing Editor, Philadelphia Public School Notebook (moderator)
  • Richard Ingersoll, Professor of Education and Sociology, Board of Overseers Chair of Education, University of Pennsylvania 
  • Michael Lach, Director, STEM Policy and Strategic Initiatives, University of Chicago
  • Rehana Shafi, Assistant Director, Teacher Education Scholars Program, UMBC
Richard Ingersoll didn’t waste any time shaping the discussion on teacher recruiting and training, and then he led the way through an hour-long discourse on why long-standing national beliefs on the teaching profession are wrong.

“We do not under produce math and science teachers,” said Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.

“There’s a big gap between what we hear and what data tell us is the case,” he said.

The problem is not recruiting and training, he said, it’s keeping.

“It’s not rocket science, it’s working conditions,” Ingersoll said.

He said a culture of increased accountability – good in theory, more questionable in practice – has made the classroom an ever-less appealing place to work. With a steady focus on testing, teachers have less discretion and less autonomy in their classrooms, and that leads many to find work elsewhere.

Years-long budget crunches in some districts have hurt, too, he said, with teachers unwilling to put up with shoddy environments and substandard equipment.

When school officials start saying they need help finding new teachers, he said, the question to ask is, “Does school provide the tools to meet the standards?”

But perhaps the biggest problem, he said, was simple teacher training.

A fifth of science teachers quit within a year and “40 percent of teachers never taught a teenager until their first day of work.”

“The amount of student teacher (preparation) is the No. 1 indicator of success,” he said.

Rehana Shafi, the head of the scholars program for teachers-to-be at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said a small but potentially significant move was afoot in the education community.

The idea at UMBC, she said, was undoing a culture of “teaching ideal situations versus the real world.”

“We don’t talk about teaching as a career of prestige,” she said. “We talk about it, ‘If you can’t do, you teach.’

“But you don’t learn how to teach by reading about it. You learn by doing it in a classroom. And reading about it.”

She said UMBC was trying to build a wrap-around model of education that continues to offer campus-type support systems even after students graduates and begin their careers. But she was clear the model was evolving and there wasn’t even data to draw conclusions yet.

Ingersoll said data-based conclusions were hard to find.

“Turns out there’s nothing new about this story line,” he said.

Every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has given at least one speech about the lack of math and science teachers, he said.

“We’ve been reforming and fixing this for half a century. We haven’t we been able to fix this?”

 



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