The state should ensure that secondary science teachers know all the subject matter they are licensed to teach.
Delaware offers a secondary certificate for integrated science. Candidates must pass the Praxis II General Science test. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general science but rather can teach any of the topical areas.
Delaware also offers a secondary certificate for physical science. These candidates must pass the Praxis II Physical Science test.
Require secondary science teachers to pass a content test for each discipline they are licensed to teach.
States that allow general science certifications or combination licenses across multiple science disciplines—and only require a general knowledge science exam—are not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. Delaware's required assessments combine subject areas (e.g., chemistry and physics) and do not report separate scores for each subject area. Therefore, candidates could answer many—perhaps all—chemistry questions, for example, incorrectly yet still be licensed to teach chemistry to high school students.
Delaware asserted that science is very content specific, and that it has a separate certification for each of the sciences in both middle and high school. There are no general science certifications, but rather certifications in the following: physics, chemistry, biology, earth science, integrated science and physical science. Delaware further asserted that each of these certifications requires passing the content assessment for that area, and science teachers that teach multiple sciences must possess the certification for each.
Delaware added the course description for integrated science, which reads: Integrated science is a laboratory science aligned with Delaware State Standards and requires mastery of scientific inquiry, physical laws of motion, forces, astronomy and ecology knowledge and skills. Teachers who possess certifications in biology, physics, chemistry and physical science may also be certified in integrated science, given each of these four science foci.
The regulation cited by the state stipulates that a secondary science teacher who holds a standard certificate in each of the secondary science curricular areas within a discrete integrated science course may teach the course without holding a standard certificate in integrated science. However, the state does not articulate that integrated science teachers are limited to only teaching integrated science classes.
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.
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.