The state should ensure that secondary science and social studies teachers know all the subject matter they are licensed to teach. This goal was consistent between 2015 and 2017.
Although Massachusetts requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensing (MTEL) content test to teach any core secondary subjects, the state permits a significant loophole to this important policy by allowing a general social studies license, without requiring subject-matter testing for each subject area within this discipline.
Science Endorsements: Massachusetts does not offer certification in general science for secondary teachers. Teachers must be certified in a specific discipline within the subject area of science.
Social Studies Endorsements: It appears that Massachusetts's political science/political philosophy certificate functions as a general social studies certification, as it is unclear otherwise what certification a teacher would obtain to teach a subject such as economics. These candidates must pass the corresponding MTEL test, which combines political philosophy, U.S. government and civics, comparative government and international relations, history, and geography and economics. In addition, the history certification requires the MTEL history assessment, which combines history, geography, government and economics. Neither test reports separate scores for each individual area.
Require secondary social studies teachers to pass a content test for each discipline they are licensed to teach.
By allowing a general social studies certification—and only requiring a general knowledge social studies exam—Massachusetts is not ensuring that its secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. The state's required assessment combines all subject areas (e.g., history, geography, economics) and does not report separate scores for each subject area.
Massachusetts provided that NCTQ is correct that an educator can potentially obtain a secondary teaching license by passing the appropriate MTEL content/subject-matter test.
However, Massachusetts also indicated that NCTQ is not correct that this represents a "significant loophole" given that the political science/political philosophy test covers political philosophy, U.S. government and civics, comparative government and international relations, history and geography and economics. This is similar to the history license, which covers U.S. history, world history and geography, government and economics. It is possible that a prospective educator could perform really well on all aspects of the political science/political philosophy test and/or history test with the exception of the economics section and still receive a passing grade on the exam. The state noted that on June 27, 2017, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to approve several changes to the regulations, including changing the name of the political science/political philosophy license to social science. The secretary of state was expected to approve the regulations on July 28, 2017.
3E: Secondary Licensure Deficiencies
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 physics having passed only a general science test—and perhaps answering most of the 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 to either 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.
Similarly, most states offer a general social studies license at the secondary level. For this certification, teachers can have a background in a wide variety of fields, ranging from history and political science to anthropology or psychology and may only be required to pass a general social studies test. Under such a license a teacher who majored in psychology could be licensed to teach secondary history having passed only a general knowledge test and answering most—and perhaps all—history questions incorrectly.