Education

In Demand: Science Teachers

By Jeanne McCann — November 17, 2004 2 min read

A recent New York Daily News story noted that a so-called “themed” science school in New York City had a noticeable shortage of science teachers.

In fact, it had exactly zero.

One mother of a student attending the School for Health and Biomedical Sciences in Brooklyn told the Daily News, “I’m beginning to think [it’s] a themed school in name only.”

Finding qualified science teachers has never been easy for schools, in part because of fierce competition from corporations and universities. According to the nonprofit organization Recruiting New Teachers, the situation isn’t likely to improve soon, particularly as the No Child Left Behind’s requirements for testing students in science kick in—beginning in the 2007-08 school year. Nearly four years ago a study by RNT found that in the nation’s largest urban school districts, nearly 98 percent of districts responding noted an immediate demand for science teachers.

More recently, a September 2004 survey by the National Science Teachers Association found that 70 percent of the teachers surveyed said their school or district is having difficulty finding and hiring qualified science teachers. Forty-eight percent said the problem is increasing yearly.

Such strong, sustained demand equals good news for aspiring science teachers, or those looking for a change&3151;or a challenge.

Education Week‘s Research Center recently found that 23 states offer teacher recruitment or retention incentives for teachers of subject-area shortages for the 2004-05 school year, with the majority incentives targeting science teachers. Look to your state’s teacher hiring office, and track down what special incentives they offer.

Meanwhile, recently passed federal legislation also aims to encourage movement into the field. The Taxpayer-Teacher Protection Act of 2004, signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 30, 2004, increases the amount of student loan debt-cancellation for students who take jobs teaching math, science, or special education in low-income areas. The provision cancels student loan debts of up to $17,500 for teachers who meet specific criteria. Watch for guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on this issue.

Schools of education also recognize the need for change. A May 2004 survey conducted by the Bayer Corporation surveyed deans of education and new K-5 teachers, finding that 42 percent of new teachers gave their preservice science training a grade of “C,” “D,” or “F.” Of the deans, only 40 percent gave their science training programs an “A.” But those same deans also said that science should be the fourth “R,” and placed on equal footing with reading, writing and math in elementary school.

In short, smoothing the career paths of potential science teachers has literally become a matter of policy. It might be a direction worth looking into.

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