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Teacher Shortage in Math, Science Is Critical, Survey Finds

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A new survey has documented the claim that shortages of qualified mathematics and science teachers have reached the "crisis point."

The situation is unlikely to change, says the study by the National Science Teachers Association (nsta), unless steps are taken to encourage more students to enter the field and to upgrade the skills and salary of those who are already teaching.

"The data tell us that the system is near collapse," said William Aldridge, executive director of the science-teachers' group, whose membership includes about 40,000 science educators in elementary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities.

Random Sample

Composed of four smaller surveys conducted last December, the study is based on responses from a random sample of approximately 2,000 teachers and 2,000 principals, and from officials of 600 teacher-education programs.

According to the researchers' findings, the following changes have occurred in the past decade:

A 77-percent decline in the number of secondary-level mathematics teachers prepared in 600 teacher-training programs nationwide.

A 65-percent decline in the number of science teachers prepared to teach in secondary schools.

A 68-percent reduction in newly employed secondary-school science teachers.

An 80 percent reduction in newly employed secondary-school mathematics teachers since 1971.

The survey is the most thorough since the mid-1970's, when the National ScienceFoundation (nsf) carried out a series of studies on precollege science and mathematics education, according to nsta officials. These studies--later augmented by a 1980 report to the White House, prepared jointly by the Education Department and nsf, on "Science and Engineering Education for the 1980's and Beyond,"--revealed serious deficiencies in the quality and quantity of science and mathematics education offered in the U.S.

The new survey suggests that the problems identified in those studies have worsened rather than improved, according to nsta officials.

'Catastrophic Decline'

"There has been a catastrophic decline in the number of persons prepared to teach science and math, and of those prepared, many do not take teaching positions," according to a summary of the survey. "Secondary schools are employing record numbers of unqualified persons for science and math teaching positions because qualified teachers cannot be found."

The drop in the number of new science and mathematics teachers has been matched by a corresponding rise in the number of unqualified instructors now teaching in these fields, according to the survey.

"Qualified," as it was used in the survey, is not synonymous with ''certified," Mr. Aldridge said, although unqualified teachers may also be uncertified. "These were people judged to be unqualified by principals," he said, because their training and experience did not prepare them to teach science or mathematics.

Among newly employed science and mathematics teachers, 50.2 percent were judged by principals to be unqualified to teach in those fields, but had been employed on an emergency basis because school officials could not find qualified teachers, according to the responses of secondary-school principals.

A region-by-region analysis of these figures suggests that the shortage is linked to the low salaries earned by teachers, especially in contrast to those paid in private industry, according to Mr. Aldridge.

For example, the shortage of science and mathematics teachers is especially severe in California and other states where high-technology industries offer salaries that far exceed those offered by the public schools.

Among those teachers who stay in the classroom, many have done little to upgrade their knowledge of the field.

Computer Courses

According to the data collected, 79 percent of the teachers have not completed at least a 10-hour course or workshop in their field in more than 10 years; 40 percent have not attended a course or workshop since they began teaching--an average of 16 years earlier. Many have not taken steps to become familiar with the growing use of computers: 69 percent of those surveyed had never attended a computer course or workshop.

The shortage of qualified teachers in these fields--believed by many to hold the key to U.S. economic growth and productivity--is likely to become more severe, according to surveys of those teaching.

"Almost five times more science and math teachers left teaching last year for employment in non-teaching jobs than left due to retirement," according to the summary.

"If the present exodus of qualified science and math teachers from secondary schools continues, the nation will have a net loss of 35 percent by 1992."

The average age of the teachers surveyed by nsta is 41; the average experience in the classroom is 16 years. One in four of the younger faculty plans to leave teaching completely, the survey found.

The problems are not confined to secondary schools, according to the study. Among the elementary-school teachers surveyed, 51 percent said their undergraduate training did not prepare them to teach science, which most elementary-school teachers are nevertheless required to do."Furthermore, 71 percent have never had in-service training for science, and 64 percent no longer had science consultants assigned to their schools," the summary notes.

Gradual Development

The situation did not develop overnight, according to an nsta analysis of federal support for science education, virtually all of which comes from the National Science Foundation (nsf). In 1959, two years after the launching of Sputnik inspired a national concern about science education, funding for the field stood at 47 percent of the agency's total budget. In the 1982 budget, science education receives only two percent of the agency's budget.

The drop in funding for precollege science education, however, has been more dramatic, according to the analysis. In 1959, elementary and secondary education received 72 percent of the agency's science-education budget. In 1980, the support represented 22 percent of that budget.

Successful Curricula

Much of the decline in federal funding for science education stems from criticism of nsf curriculum projects that were developed in the 1960's and 1970's, according to Mr. Aldridge. And although some of the criticism was legitimate--the programs often appealed mostly to the brightest students--preliminary results of another recent study suggest that the new curricula were "far more successful than most people realized," according to an nsta statement.

The curriculum study, directed by Ronald Anderson of the University of Colorado and conducted by James Shymansky of the University of Iowa, analyzed 105 previously conducted science-education studies, which involved 45,000 students.

The researchers compared those students enrolled in classes using the new science curricula to those being taught in more traditional programs. "On every kind of measure, including achievement, attitude, and process skills, students taking the new nsf curricula scored overall 13 percent higher," according to nsta's statement.

Moreover, the researchers found, students from low socioeconomic groups scored an average of 24-percent higher when they used the nsf curricula than when they used the traditional curricula.

Potential Solutions

Officials of the science-teachers' group believe that there are potential solutions to the problems documented by their survey, but they say none is easy or will result in an immediate solution. As a start, they recommend that educators and federal policy-makers address long-term shortages in the field by encouraging new entrants, through scholarships and publicizing the need for teachers in these fields, and by establishing summer institutes, workshops, and other programs for "marginally qualified" science and mathematics teachers.

The association will present the study's findings to Congressional budget committees next month in an effort to convince legislators of the need for funding for precollege science and mathematics education. In the Administration's proposed fiscal 1983 budget, the National Science Foundation's science education directorate will receive only $15 million, none of it for elementary and secondary programs.

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