Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science

2013 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

2013 Goals for Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science

The state should ensure that secondary science teachers know all the subject matter they are licensed to teach.

Best practices

Missouri ensures that its secondary science teachers know the content they teach by taking a dual approach to general secondary science certification. The state offers general science certification but only allows these candidates to teach general science courses. Missouri also offers an umbrella certification—called unified science—that requires candidates to pass individual subtests in biology, chemistry, earth science and physics. These certifications are offered in addition to single-subject licenses. 

Best practice 1

State

Meets goal 13

States

Nearly meets goal 2

States

Meets goal in part 7

States

Meets a small part of goal 0

States

Does not meet goal 28

States

Progress on this goal since 2011

  • Improved
  • Stayed the same
  • Regressed

Do states require secondary science candidates to demonstrate adequate science subject-matter knowledge?

2013
2011
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Figure details

Yes. State offers only single-subject science licenses and requires adequate testing.: FL, IN, KS, KY, MA, MN, NH, NY, TN, VA

Yes. State offers a general science or combination license, but it requires candidates to pass a test in each subject they may teach. : AZ, MO, NJ, RI, WV

No. State offers single-subject science licenses without adequate testing.: CA

No. State offers a general science or combination licenses and does not require adequate tests.: AK, AL, AR, CO, CT, DC, DE, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, LA, MD, ME, MI, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NM, NV, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TX, UT, VT, WA, WI, WY

Do states require secondary social studies candidates to demonstrate adequate social studies subject-matter knowledge?

2013
2011
Add previous year
Figure details

Yes. State offers only single-subject social studies licenses and requires adequate testing.: MN, MO

Yes. State offers a general social studies or combination license, but it requires candidates to pass a test in each subject they may teach. : GA, IN, SD, TN

No. State offers a single-subject social studies license and does not require adequate testing.:

No. State offers a general social studies license and does not require adequate testing.: AK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, HI, IA, ID, IL, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY

How we graded

Research rationale

Specialized science teachers are not interchangeable.

Based on their high school science licensure requirements, many states seem to presume that it is all the same to teach anatomy, electrical currents and Newtonian physics. Most states allow teachers to obtain general science or combination licenses across multiple science disciplines, and, in most cases, these teachers need only pass a general knowledge science exam that does not ensure subject-specific content knowledge.  This means that a teacher with a background in biology could be fully certified to teach advanced chemistry or physics having passed only a general science test—and perhaps answering most of the chemistry or physics questions incorrectly. 

There is no doubt that districts appreciate the flexibility that these broad field licenses offer, especially given the very real shortage of teachers of many science disciplines.  But the all-purpose science teacher not only masks but perpetuates the STEM crisis—and does so at the expense of students.  States need either to make sure that general science teachers are indeed prepared to teach any of the subjects covered under that license or allow only single subject science certifications.  In either case states need to consider strategies to improve the pipeline of science teachers, including the use of technology, distance learning and alternate routes into STEM fields. 

Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science: Supporting Research

For an examination of how science teacher preparation positively impacts student achievement, see D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "Does Teacher Certification Matter? High School Teacher Certification Status and Student Achievement", Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Volume 22, No. 2, June 20, 2000, pp. 129-145; D. Monk, "Subject area preparation of secondary mathematics and science teachers and student achievement", Economics of Education Review, Volume 13, No. 2, June 1994, pp.125-145; A. Rothman, "Teacher characteristics and student learning". Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Volume 6, No. 4, December 1969, pp. 340-348. 

See also, NCTQ "The All-Purpose Science Teacher: An Analysis of Loopholes in State Requirements for High School Science Teachers." (2010).

In addition, research studies have demonstrated the positive impact of teacher content knowledge on student achievement.  For example, see D. Goldhaber, "Everyone's Doing It, But What Does Teacher Testing Tell Us About Teacher Effectiveness?" Journal of Human Resources,Volume 42, No. 4, Fall 2007, pp. 765-794.  See also D. Harris and T. Sass, "Teacher Training, Teacher Quality, and Student Achievement". Calder Institute,March 2007, Working Paper 3. Evidence can also be found in B. White, J. Presely, and K. DeAngelis, "Leveling Up: Narrowing the Teacher Academic Capital Gap in Illinois", Illinois Education Research Council, Policy Research Report: IERC 2008-1, 44 p.; D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "Why Don't Schools and Teachers Seem to Matter? Assessing the Impact of Unobservables on Educational Productivity." Journal of Human Resources, Volume 32, No. 3, Summer 1997, pp. 505-523.