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CSU Partners with PhysTEC to Boost California Science Teacher Production

March 15, 2012
The PhysTEC Regional Conference of MSTI and CalTeach held in Ontario, California in February 2012 drew over 70 participants, with representation from 30 of 32 California campuses. Image courtesy of PhysTEC.

California's perennial shortage of qualified science teachers is nothing new. Addressing the shortage has long been a priority for the state, with both the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) spending considerable resources in recent years to improve the quality and quantity of credentialed science teachers. Despite these efforts, however, demand continues to exceed supply of qualified science and math teachers; in California today, as many as 18% of high school physical science teachers lack appropriate credentials. It is to help address this problem that the American Physical Society (APS) is proposing a systemwide partnership with CSU, aimed at assisting the CSU in reaching its goal of producing 1,500 science teachers a year over the next decade.

"Education and outreach is our future," said new APS President Robert Byer, a founding member of CCST and CCST Council Chair Emeritus. "We need not only to continue our education efforts, but broaden them, increasing our reach to help prepare teachers for teaching science at K through 12 levels through programs such as PhysTEC."

The Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC), led by APS together with the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), is a project to improve and promote the education of future physics teachers. To date, the project has funded 20 institutions as Supported Sites to build model teacher preparation programs.

"PhysTEC has already provided support for programs at CSU Long Beach, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and CSU San Marcos," said Theodore Hodapp, Director of Education and Diversity at the American Physical Society. "CSU has a strong commitment to expand its science teacher production. Expanding PhysTEC to a relationship that encompasses the entire CSU system should benefit all of us."

There are multiple components of PhysTEC implementation, but recruitment and outreach plays a significant part of the program. PhysTEC works not only with the teacher preparation system, but with the physical sciences departments as well.

"It's partly a question of changing attitudes," said Hodapp. "For many physics departments, the presumption is that students are training for academic careers. We are working to make significant, lasting change in the culture of these departments."

PhysTEC also works to strengthen the curriculum to ensure that more teachers are confident in their knowledge of physical science, and incorporates practicing teachers in residence into the teacher preparation and professional development programs. It also focuses on working with campuses committed to the sustainability of the program, ensuring that the changes brought about through the PhysTEC grants will have lasting effects on science teacher production.

The proposed partnership plays an important part in CSU's proposal to "100Kin10", a multi-partner organization to meet the challenge posed by the National Academies "Rising Above the Gathering Storm", which identified the nationwide shortage of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers as a critical priority for the nation. The goal of 100Kin10 is to train 100 thousand teachers over the next ten years. The organization is funded by a wide array of stakeholders, including the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, and others.

PhysTEC's initiative has received an enthusiastic reception in the state. A meeting convened in February 2012 by PhysTEC for CSU and UC physics, chemistry, and teacher education faculty as a stand-alone meeting before the annual PhysTEC conference drew over 70 participants, with representation from 30 of 32 California campuses. The meeting also helped PhysTEC engage in a three-way dialogue with the UC Science & Mathematics Initiative (Calteach) and the CSU Math and Science Teacher Initiative (MSTI).

"PhysTEC will make a key contribution to the CSU 100Kin10 commitment by addressing the severe shortage of high school physics teachers in California, and the CSU system will help PhysTEC meet its own 100Kin10 commitment to expand our model to an additional 50 institutions over the next 10 years, and to build the coalition to include over half of all physics departments."


CCST Spotlight is a weekly newsletter focusing on CCST activities and highlighting innovative science and technology research, applications, and policy issues in California. The Spotlight editor is Danny DeCillis. We welcome information and feedback from our readers about science and technology at work in the private, public, and education sectors. To send us questions or comments, contact us at ccst@ccst.us, or (951) 682-8701.