Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

2011 Goals for Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science

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

Best practices

New Jersey does not offer certification in general science for secondary teachers. Although the state allows a combination physical science certificate, it ensure adequate content knowledge in both chemistry and physics by requiring teacher candidates to pass individual content tests in chemistry, physics and general science. Further, middle school science teachers must pass a science-specific content test. 

Best practice 1

State

Meets goal 7

States

Nearly meets goal 11

States

Meets goal in part 16

States

Meets a small part of goal 4

States

Does not meet goal 12

States

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

2011
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. : NJ

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, AZ, CO, CT, DC, DE, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, LA, MD, ME, MI, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NM, NV, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TX, UT, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY

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

2011
Figure details

Yes. State offers only single-subject social studies licenses and requires adequate testing.: GA, SD, TN

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

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, MN, MO, 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

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.  There are strategies that districts and states can pursue to improve the pipeline of science teachers—strategies such as UTEACH that use technology, distance learning and alternate routes into STEM fields.  

Middle school science teachers must know middle grade-level science.  

Many states require that middle school teachers pass a multiple-subject general knowledge test.  Teacher candidates need only achieve an overall passing score, meaning that  it could be possible to answer most—perhaps all, given the low cut scores in some states—science questions incorrectly and still pass.  Such tests are problematic at the elementary level, as they may mask serious weaknesses in teachers' content knowledge.  But at the middle school level the tests are even more flawed, since teachers may not even be generalists.  Science may be the only subject a middle school teacher teaches, and yet her license offers no assurance that she knows the material she is teaching.  

Research rationale

For an examination of how science teacher preparation positively impacts student achievement, see Goldhaber, D., & Brewer, D. (2000). Does teacher certification matter? High school certification status and student achievement, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 22, 129-145; Monk, D. (1994). Subject area preparation of secondary mathematics and science teachers and student achievement, Economics of Education Review, 12(2):125-145; Rothman, A., (1969). Teacher characteristics and student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 6(4), 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, vol. XLII no.4 (2007).  See also Harris, D., and Sass, T., "Teacher Training, Teacher Quality and Student Achievement". Teacher Quality Research (2007). Evidence can also be found in White, Presely, DeAngelis "Leveling up: Narrowing the teacher academic capital gap in Illinois," Illinois Education Research Council (2008); 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 (1998).

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