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Published in Print: March 1, 2000, as More Students Take Math, Science, While Many Teachers Unprepared

More Students Take Math, Science, While Many Teachers Unprepared

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More American students are taking higher-level courses in mathematics and science than in 1990, but too many of those students are being taught by teachers who did not major in the subjects, according to a report by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

For More Information

Read "State Indicators of Science and Mathematics Education 1999." (Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.) The report is also available for $18 by calling (202) 336-7016.

Seventh and 8th graders are most likely to have a teacher who may be underqualified to teach the subjects—with only one-fourth of the science and math teachers in those grades certified in the areas they are teaching. Such statistics are particularly troubling, some experts say, considering the importance of providing those students with solid foundations in the disciplines.

"We know that unless students are provided with good teaching in math, and science, up to the 8th grade level, they [are less likely to] proceed to college," said Gordon M. Ambach, the CCSSO's executive director. "But states are having difficulty attracting good candidates who genuinely want to work with students at that level."

"State Indicators of Science and Mathematics Education 1999," the fifth biennial report by the Washington-based organization, released last month, shows that in 1998, 72 percent of math teachers and 74 percent of science teachers in grades 7-12 had majored in their assigned fields in college. The proportion of math teachers who had been math majors ranged from a low of 49 percent in Washington state to a high of 98 percent in Pennsylvania. Minnesota had the highest rate of science teachers with a major in the subject, with 97 percent, while Florida and Tennessee had the lowest, with 52 percent.

Students in classes with high proportions of minority or low-income students were less likely to be taught by teachers well-prepared in those subjects, the study found. Among the 13 states that reported enrollments by students' race or ethnicity, lower proportions of African-American and Hispanic students took higher-level courses in the subjects. In Texas, for example, the enrollment of Hispanic students in chemistry and Algebra 2 courses was at least 30 percentage points lower than for whites. In North Carolina, that gap was 25 percentage points.

Encouraging Signs

In general, though, the increase in student enrollments in math and science courses is encouraging and may reflect the push for higher standards and more rigorous graduation requirements in many states, said Rolf K. Blank, who wrote the report with Doreen Langesen, both CCSSO staff members.

Eleven states now require high school students to take four credits in math, and eight require four credits in science. Some 18 percent of 8th graders nationally took algebra in 1998, an increase of 7 percentage points over 1990, and at least 22 states raised the proportion of students studying the subject in that grade during that period.

Nationally, 63 percent of students had taken three years of high school mathematics prior to graduation, compared with just 49 percent in 1990. In 1998, 54 percent of students took three years of science prior to graduation, a jump of 9 percentage points from 1990.

Vol. 19, Issue 25, Page 12

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Correction: 
This story incorrectly stated the proportion of middle school teachers certified in the areas they teach. In the 1997-98 school year, 72 percent of math teachers and 73 percent of science teachers in the 7th and 8th grades were certified in their subjects.

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