The United States is in desperate need of qualified math and science teachers for high schools across the nation, according to a report by the California Council on Science and Technology.
The report concluded that there is a lack of certified science and math teachers for schools around the nation, particularly in poorer neighborhoods. “A Critical Path Analysis,” the 2002 report, analyzed the educational system as a whole.
The CSU system and community colleges have signed a memorandum of understanding to establish clearer pathways for college students. According to the report, California’s universities play a critical role in training the scientists and engineers, but now they want to focus on gaining more of an interest in those colleges.
If high school students are losing interest in the fields of math and science, then there is no hope for teachers.
Another report, conducted by the National Research Center, predicted that in the next decade nearly 66 percent of the country’s K-12 teachers are expected to retire or stop teaching. U.S. schools will need to fill between 1.7 and 2.7 million positions, nearly 200,000 of which will be in secondary math and science.
Having well-prepared teachers is key to improving lagging science and math programs. Educators who do not have a major or minor in either subject teach more than 26 percent of math and 16 percent of science to students.
“(These findings) affect our field in a very profound way if students are not prepared adequately,” said S.K. Ramesh, dean of engineering and sciences.
At Sacramento State, where Ramesh worked previously, he had a couple of students go into teaching. “They taught introduction to engineering at the high school level,” he said. There was also a program at Sacramento State to train math and science teachers.
The engineering department at CSUN does not have any specific courses for students who want to be teachers. “Many probably have the skills to teach,” Ramesh said. “Engineering is a field that’s always in demand.”
Mechanical engineering currently as an online course has 10 high school students enrolled. Ramesh believes that high school is too late to get students involved in science and math.
High school science classes are taught by teachers without proper science credentials. Lawmakers in Washington are proposing to spend billions over the next several years to encourage more teachers to enter those subject fields.
According to the NRC, the U.S. continues to perform the worst out of all industrialized countries because schools have a critical shortage of qualified teachers in science, math and technology.
Biology professor Dr. Virginia Vandergon was at a conference last year that covered what the CSU system will do to get more qualified teachers.
“(At the conference) we discussed that a better support system for teachers needs to be set up,” Vandergon said. “Teachers get isolated once they start teaching, which makes them leave within five years.” Vandergon and other professors offer a support system for newer teachers, offering them lessons and ideas for their classes.
Vandergon teaches the program that is set up for liberal studies students who are interested in teaching science. The program allows CSUN students to teach 7th graders from a neighboring middle school. (See sidebar, right).
“There is an appreciable shortage (of science teachers),” said Dr. Michael Franklin of the biology department. “(The) CSU has an admirable goal to graduate 10,000 students in math and science to not only put bodies in classes but to make sure they are knowledgeable (in the subjects).”
According to Franklin, the CSU’s goal helps emphasize its role in the community. Elementary and secondary school teachers lack the proper credentials needed to teach basic math and science. In order to get teachers with the right credentials, the education begins at universities. Students have to want to teach.
“A lot of the students that I teach are biology majors, pre-med (mostly),” Franklin said. “(Students are) not identified as potential science teachers. When the option is mentioned, a few seem interested. Teaching science is not an advertised thing.”
Geological sciences professor Dr. Vincent Devlahovich said he feels students might think it’s too much work to get their credentials for not enough pay.
“There are very few secondary credentials coming out of CSUN,” Devlahovich said. “Students don’t want to put in all that extra time for less money. Public education can’t compete with all the jobs out there (in science).”
According to CCS’T, becoming a teacher involves earning a baccalaureate (possibly with a detour through a community college first), enrolling in a traditional post-baccalaureate teacher preparation program, and entering the classroom with a preliminary credential. This credential may be held for up to five years while the teacher completes induction (new teacher training and mentoring) and earns a full clear credential.
If there are any math or science majors interested in being teachers, they can go to their professors or advisers to take the proper steps. Children’s education depends on them having good teachers early on in their school careers.
“There is a common misconception that math and science is too boring,” said Hana Hong, a liberal studies major enrolled in ITEP. “(I’m) disappointed that this (shortage of math and science teachers) is what might happen. It’s sad to hear that.”