The state should ensure that secondary science teachers know all the subject matter they are licensed to teach.
Nebraska offers a secondary endorsement in general science. Beginning September 1, 2015, candidates will be required to pass the Praxis II General Science content test. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general science but rather can teach any of the topical areas.
Praxis Test Requirement http://www.education.ne.gov/EducatorPrep/Archive/EmailArchive/Attachments/ContentTestScoresChart.pdf
Require secondary science teachers to pass a content test for each discipline they are licensed to teach.
By allowing a general science certification—and only requiring a general knowledge science exam—Nebraska is not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. The state's required assessment combines all subject areas (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics) and does not report separate scores for each area. Therefore, candidates could answer many—perhaps all—chemistry questions, for example, incorrectly yet still be licensed to teach chemistry to high school students.
Nebraska was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The state added that it does not agree that the natural science (the former name for general science) license is "only" adequate to teach general science, which, in the context of NCTQ's comments, implies low-level science. Similar to social science, discrete subject endorsements are available for the science areas; however, the field endorsement was created to meet the needs of Nebraska schools.
NCTQ is not advocating against general science teachers and can see why such a certification is particularly advantageous for rural areas. However, secondary-level students need teachers who are well prepared to teach advanced subject matter, and requiring passing scores on a content test for each discipline that teacher candidates are licensed to teach is the only way to ensure adequate subject-matter knowledge.
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.