Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science:
California

2013 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

Does not meet
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2013). Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science: California results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/CA-Secondary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Science-20

Analysis of California's policies

Secondary teachers in California are generally licensed under the Single Subject Teaching Credential, which is valid in grades K-12. Although it appears that California does not offer a general science license, except for foundational-level subject areas, the state allows candidates to verify subject-matter competence in one of two ways: by passing a content test or by completing a commission-approved subject-matter program. 

Citation

Recommendations for California

Require secondary science teachers to pass a content test for each discipline they are licensed to teach.
Although coursework plays a key role in the acquisition of content knowledge, teacher candidates in California should also be required to pass a rigorous subject-matter assessment, which is the only way to ensure that teachers possess adequate knowledge of the subject area. 

State response to our analysis

California recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that the subject-matter requirements that the content examinations are built on are the same requirements that the Commission-approved subject-matter programs must meet. Many individuals find that the candidate who completes a Commission-approved subject-matter program has more content knowledge than an individual who passes the CSET content examination.

California added that it credentials individuals in physics, earth science, biology and chemistry, and each individual must show that he or she has content knowledge by either passing the appropriate CSET or completing a Commission-approved subject-matter program.


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.