California Not On Track to Meet Demand for Science and Math Teachers

February 5, 2007 | ,   | Contact: M. Daniel DeCillis

The state is facing a serious shortage of fully prepared science and mathematics teachers, and current efforts to increase the number of trained teachers will not meet demand in the coming years, according to a new study by CCST and the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning (CFTL).

Figure 1: new hires in science

Nearly 40,000 teachers taught at least one science or mathematics class in 2005-6, representing over 13% of the state’s teacher workforce. However, not all of these teachers are fully prepared to teach their subjects: at least 12% of these teachers lack suitable training to effectively teach their subject, and as many as 35% of first and second year science teachers and 40% of first and second year mathematics teachers is underprepared.

“It’s a basic problem of supply not meeting demand,” said CCST Executive Director Susan Hackwood. “California is issuing about 2,500 science and mathematics credentials a year, but hiring nearly 4,000 science and mathematics teachers a year. Districts are being forced to improvise to get qualified people in the classroom.”

In 2004-05, most new hires in science (Figure 1) and mathematics (Figure 2) had either emergency permits or intern certificates. Emergency permits alone accounted for 31% of new science teachers and 37% of new mathematics teachers; only 46% of new science teachers, and 34% of math teachers, held either a preliminary or full (clear) credential. Approximately a quarter of new science and mathematics teachers were interns.

Figure 2: new hires in math

Since the implementation of the state’s class-size reduction initiative in 1996, California has experienced shortages of fully prepared teachers at all levels and subject areas. Although the problem has abated somewhat in recent years, shortages remain in secondary schools, especially in science and mathematics.

“The state has taken steps to significantly reduce the number of emergency permits issued,” said Hackwood, “and created alternative routes for prospective teachers, in particular the university and district intern programs. However, while these programs have been successful to an extent in attracting more people to teaching, they place interns in the classroom before they have completed requirements for a preliminary teaching credential.”

Moreover, the creation of additional paths to becoming a certified teacher have added to a credentialing system that was complex to begin with.

“There is a profusion of pathways and resources at the campus level,” said Hackwood, “but there really is no ‘master plan’.” The Critical Path Analysis also noted that recruitment, induction (training and support for novice teachers) and professional development efforts in California are fragmented, generally not sustained over time, and conducted independent of overall workforce needs.

CFTL, which collaborated with CCST on the project, issued similar warnings in its own December 2006 report, California’s Teaching Force: Key Issues and Trends 2006.

“There remain serious issues not only of quality teacher production but also of the maldistribution of underprepared teachers across low-performing schools,” said Margaret Gaston, CFTL executive director. “The largest numbers of underprepared teachers in California can be found in just ten counties.”

Several pieces of promising legislation passed in 2006 with the potential to improve teacher credentialing and enable the state to better track its teacher workforce, but long-term follow through, and a greater level of investment over time will be needed for the state to meet its science and mathematics teacher needs.

Key Findings:

  • In general, California lacks a coherent system to consistently produce fully prepared teachers, especially science and mathematics teachers.
  • The state lacks the data necessary to monitor the supply and demand of teachers.
  • The state has passed promising legislation to bolster the teacher workforce, but the success of these bold policies is dependent on thoughtful and thorough implementation at the local level.
  • California’s teacher preparation programs do not currently have the capacity to meet the demand for fully prepared science and mathematics teachers.
  • There is a large percentage of teachers who may be fully prepared, but are assigned to teach science and mathematics out of their area of expertise.
  • Although traditional teacher preparation programs are still the primary routes for entering science and mathematics teachers, there is a strong trend toward alternative routes such as internships.
  • Until recently, new teacher support programs have not been adequate to accommodate novice science and mathematics teachers who are entering the profession as interns.
  • Professional development opportunities for middle and high school science and mathematics teachers fall short of meeting the increasing need for deeper subject matter content knowledge and pedagogical skill.
  • California will experience a shortage of new, fully prepared science and mathematics teachers in the next decade due to attrition and retirement of the existing teacher workforce.
  • California policymakers need to carefully assess the preparation of elementary science and mathematics teachers.

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