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Coping with the STEM Teacher Shortage

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By Dr. Conrad Lotze
Dean, School of Education, American Public University

People have been talking about shortages of qualified math and science (STEM) teachers for more than two decades. In recent years, several government-led programs have been launched to address the issue. In 2006, for example, the Bush administration’s American Competitiveness Initiative [1] was designed to combat the STEM teacher shortage then forecasted at approximately 282,000, nationwide, by 2015. In 2011, the Obama administration endorsed former President Clinton’s “100Kin10” initiative [2], designed to help produce 100,000 new highly qualified STEM teachers in 10 years. Other related initiatives have included “Troops to Teachers,” “Race to the Top,” and “Teach for America,” among others. Various states have also used housing subsidies, loan forgiveness, and other incentives to increase the pool of qualified STEM teachers [3].

While we still face a shortage of new teachers, however, we also need to focus on retaining existing ones. The programs mentioned previously are beginning to have a positive effect on supply; but we still continue to lose current STEM teachers at an alarming rate, particularly from school districts with high percentages of poverty or minority student populations. Over the past 20 years [4] for which we have data (1988 to 2008), the attrition rates for teachers ranged from 5% to 9% annually. Causes vary of course, but in STEM, highly skilled individuals can command much greater salaries as engineers, programmers, or actuaries. Many teachers who left the profession cited the lack of classroom autonomy, limited professional development opportunities, and low salaries as reasons for their departure. The perception that teaching, as a profession, is not valued by society also contributes to teacher dissatisfaction and burnout.

In July 2012, the White House announced a $1 billion “Master Teacher” program [5] proposing to pay high achieving STEM teachers bonuses of up to $20,000 per year in an effort to retain the best teachers in those fields. The chance that this will pass a divided Congress, however, seems doubtful.

We have made some good progress recently in preparing greater numbers of qualified STEM teachers. Further efforts towards retaining them need to better funded and implemented if we are to slow their migration to other, more lucrative fields.

[Learn more about available online programs for educators at American Public University.]

 

About the Author:

Dr. Conrad Lotze possesses many years of educational leadership and teaching experience from a variety of academic positions. Conrad holds a BS in Mathematics from the College of William and Mary, an MA in Mathematics Education from West Virginia University, and a PhD in Mathematics Education from American University.

References

[1] Business Higher Education Forum (BHEF) (2006) The American Competitiveness Initiative: Addressing the STEM Teacher Shortage and Improving Student Academic Readiness; BHEF 2006 Issue Brief. Retrieved from http://www.bhef.com/publications/documents/brief3_s06.pdf

[2] Retrieved from http://www.100kin10.org/

[3] Consortium for Policy Research in Education The Consortium for Policy Research in Education. (2010). The Magnitude, Destinations, and Determinants of Mathematics and Science Teacher Turnover. Authors: Richard M. Ingersoll and Henry May. Retrieved from http://www.cpre.org/images/stories/cpre_pdfs/math%20and%20science%20teacher%20turnover_ingersoll%20and%20may%202010_final%20web%20ready.pdf

[4] National Science Board. (2012). Science and Engineering Indicators 2012: A broad base of quantitative information on the U.S. and international science and engineering enterprise. Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/pdf/c01.pdf

[5] U.S. News World Report. (July 2012). White House Announces $1 Billion ‘Master Teacher’ Program; Top educators could earn up to $20,000 in annual bonuses. Author: Jason Koebler. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/07/18/white-house-announces-1-billion-master-teacher-program

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