Study Indicates Many Science Teachers May Have Inadequate Training

By Lynn Olson — May 23, 1984 3 min read

Looking for the first time at information on how many science teachers provide instruction in more than one field, the National Science Teachers Association has found that more than 22 percent of science teachers in grades 9 through l2 and 28 percent of those in grades 7 and 8 are teaching in at least two different fields.

The analysis was based on data from the science group’s United States Registry of Science and Math and Social Studies Teaching Personnel, a listing of more than 400,000 teachers in grades 7 to l2.

Some 4.5 percent of teachers in grades 9 to l2 and 9.8 percent of teachers in grades 7 and 8 are teaching three sciences--biology, chemistry, and physics--the study found.

Training Still a Problem

The new findings confirm the results of previous surveys indicating that up to 30 percent of the nation’s science-teaching force may be inadequately trained, said Bill G. Aldridge, executive director of the nsta

“There’s no way you can take enough courses in two different fields in an ordinary degree in education and have enough background in both of them,” he said. “If you look at those teaching biology and chemistry, for example, they’re unqualified in one of these subjects. If somebody’s teaching all three subjects--biology, chemistry, and physics--then you know that they’re certainly unqualified in one of them ... and minimally qualified in a second. More likely, they’re totally unqualified in at least two of the three.”

Mr. Aldridge said he could not make a judgment as to whether or not the new data suggest a worsening situation. But he noted that the recent increases in math and science requirements for high-school graduation in more than half the states would exacerbate this problem.

Conservative Estimate

“I’m sure that when I do this analysis next year, it’s going to be much worse,” he said. “More students are going to have to take science when there just aren’t enough teachers available. You’re going to see many more cases of teachers teaching multiple subjects.”

Mr. Aldridge said the association’s calculation that some l6,969 science teachers are teaching at least one subject for which they have minimal or no training is a conservative estimate, since it does not include the number of teachers who are teaching mathematics in addition to science.

The data also do not reflect the number of teachers providing instruction without any prior training in a field, Mr. Aldridge noted.

Rural states such as Iowa and Ida-ho have the largest number of unqualified teachers, according to the n.s.t.a.'s state-by-state analysis. But economic considerations, rather than a shortage of science teachers, accounts for this difference, according to Mr. Aldridge.

“I have other data that show that 50 percent of the high schools in the United States offer fewer than two sections of physics,” he said. “The average high school has fewer than 800 students. These schools can’t afford to have specialists for each of their courses. ... They can’t afford to hire a teacher to teach physics only.”

The association plans to publish its data along with recommendations that Mr. Aldridge said would constitute “a fairly radical change in the ways that we teach some of these subjects.”

Proposals for Change

He predicted that in the future, college professors might teach high-school physics courses from a university via television or computer, with a paraprofessional or a lab assistant available to help students in the classroom. “Or you might have a qualified physics teacher who would travel to two or three schools each day or to a different school each week,” said Mr. Aldridge. He noted that such situations would require increased cooperation between autonomous school districts.

“The whole problem of the supply of teachers is one that’s not going to go away,” he concluded. “I think, in general, so long as we try to teach in the same way that we’re teaching now, the problem will only get worse.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 23, 1984 edition of Education Week as Study Indicates Many Science Teachers May Have Inadequate Training