SOE News

Second Carolina Seminar on School Improvement: meeting the challenges of the mathematics and science teacher shortage in North Carolina

Building on the First Carolina Seminar on School Improvement held in December, 20 educators and policymakers assembled in Chapel Hill on March 10, 2006, to develop some approaches to address the shortage of mathematics and science teachers in North Carolina. Co-hosts of the roundtable discussion were Dean Thomas James of the School of Education and Ferrel Guillory, director of the UNC-Chapel Hill Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life.

Dean James set the context by providing a national perspective. While high turnover is common across the teaching spectrum, the highest rates are often found among mathematics and science teachers, he said.

There are many reasons for this elevated turnover rate among mathematics and science teachers. The number of science and mathematics teachers licensed since the 1990s is inadequate to staff the classrooms for the increasing school population. Therefore principals feel compelled to hire teachers to staff science and mathematics classrooms who are under-prepared for the content area. Estimates indicate that the number of mathematics and science teachers teaching out-of-field or without full licensure range from 20 percent to as high as 69 percent.

The turnover rate is further accentuated by a significant out-migration of mathematics and science teachers who can find lucrative opportunities elsewhere.

Dean James cited examples of successful strategies in other states, including California’s “Science and Math Initiative” to produce 1,000 secondary mathematics and science teachers annually, Florida’s “Pathways to Teaching” minor which is offered to chemistry and physics majors and Virginia’s “Late Deciders Program” which provides a fifth-year master’s program for which science undergraduates can apply as late as their senior year.

The participants discussed many factors that are important in addressing this challenge in North Carolina as well as many strategies to consider. They agreed that an inventory needs to be developed of successful efforts taking place throughout the state. They concurred that efforts need to be made to involve the business and nonprofit communities in mathematics and science education and teacher recruitment.

The importance of increasing salaries and improving working conditions was highlighted, as well as the idea of salary differentiation in impacted areas.

Participants recommended that ─ for undergraduate students ─ stipends be provided for student teachers in science and mathematics. In addition, a “late deciders” program could be offered to science and mathematics majors and efforts could be made to recruit interested students from community colleges.

At the master’s level, incentives could be provided to encourage students to enroll in master in teaching programs.

For practicing teachers, professional development opportunities need to be more engaging, better structured and offered in an ongoing, sustained, meaningful manner. Master teachers need to be empowered so that they can mentor and inspire younger teachers.

Lateral entry programs could be designed to provide greater financial incentives for persons who are considering a career change. Incentives also could be developed for attracting teachers to work in hard-to-staff schools in rural areas.

Following a lively exchange, Dean James reflected that a coherent approach is needed for cultivating high quality teaching at every stage of teacher development ─ from prospective teachers’ schooling experiences and professional preparation, to well-supported induction experiences for new teachers, to sustained professional development for practicing teachers. The ideas generated by the working group suggest possibilities for each of these stages.