Math, Science Graduates Sign On to Teach

By Bess Keller — June 12, 2006 3 min read
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Teach For America has again posted a record number of recent college graduates applying for its two-year teaching stints, with the added coup that nearly 20 percent came with coveted mathematics, science, or engineering majors.

The New York City-based group drew 19,000 applicants for the 2,400 teaching positions it has promised to fill in disadvantaged urban and rural districts across the nation, an increase in candidates of slightly more than 9 percent over last year.

Almost one in five applicants had a math, science, or engineering degree, reflecting a 2-year-old push on the part of the group to better meet the demand for teachers in quantitative fields.

Popular on Campuses

Teach For America received 19,000 applications for its 2006 teaching corps, a 9.3 percent increase over last year. The number of seniors applying increased 11.5 percent.

College or University Percentage of senior class applying
University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind. 11%
Amherst College, Amherst, Mass. 11%
Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H. 10%
Spelman College, Atlanta 10%
Yale University, New Haven, Conn. 10%
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. 8%

SOURCE: Teach For America

In recent months, government and business leaders have sounded a clarion call to improve education in math and science so that Americans are not left behind in a global economy. Yet the subjects are perennially on the list of those that draw from a very shallow pool of teacher-candidates.

For districts that don’t compete well in the overall teacher labor market, the shortages are particularly acute.

“We have focused our recruitment effort on recent top math, science, and engineering majors because we know the need for such teachers is tremendous in those communities,” said Elissa Clapp, Teach For America’s vice president for recruitment.

Students with academic majors in such fields, Ms. Clapp said, understand the concern expressed by policymakers about the state of the nation’s quantitative education “at a deeper level … and consequently, want to do something about it.”

Most of the candidates chosen for the program would end up teaching math or science in middle and high schools, she said.

As with applicants to the program generally, many of those with quantitative backgrounds attend some of the nation’s most prestigious undergraduate programs. At the University of Notre Dame, for instance, a third of this year’s graduates in math, science, and engineering sought admission, according to TFA.

At the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, 8 percent of the class of 2006—16 students out of 300—applied.

Haul of Three

“They ramped it up this year,” confirmed Jerry Houser, the director of the career- development center at Caltech, speaking of Teach For America’s recruitment efforts on his campus. “They went to both career fairs, held individual interviews, and posted job listings. And they are going to be doing the same next year.”

Mr. Houser added that although the attention from Teach For America is new at Caltech, the organization “has a general good reputation. It started in a college; it attracts a lot of elite institutions. It’s like a name brand.”

Despite the impressive application rate at the school, just three Caltech graduates, including one who received a Ph.D., are slated to join the teacher corps this summer, Mr. Houser said. Still, that compares favorably with the yield rate achieved by big companies recruiting on campus, he said.

Some experts applauded the recruitment job done by TFA.

Linda P. Rosen, a former senior math and science adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley in the Clinton administration, characterized the proportion of math, science, and engineering majors applying for TFA as “a plus, a recognition of the market demand and an attempt to fill it.”

She noted that there’s some evidence that middle and high school math and science teachers leave the profession faster than teachers overall, which might make TFA recruits in those fields more valuable than is generally the case.

Ms. Clapp, TFA’s recruitment chief, said the group aims to almost double the number of teaching positions it fills by 2010, to 4,000, as well as double the proportion of recruits with math, science, and engineering backgrounds to 40 percent.

A version of this article appeared in the June 14, 2006 edition of Education Week as Math, Science Graduates Sign On to Teach


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