- Coursetaking and Content Standards
- Coursetaking Trends
- Teacher Preparation and Qualifications
- Participation in Professional Development
- Teacher Supply, Salaries, Working Conditions, and Job Satisfaction
- High School Graduation Rates and Enrollment in Postsecondary Education
When they start kindergarten, students in the United States already exhibit differing mathematics knowledge and skills, and most of the achievement gaps between groups either remain or grow over the years students spend in school. Mathematics and science performance gaps widened between racial/ethnic groups, between students from financially disadvantaged and advantaged families, and between students whose mothers differ in educational attainment.
However, trends between 1990 and 2005 indicate rising test scores, particularly in mathematics in grades 4 and 8 (measured with cross-sectional data). The rise in scores occurred across the board: for both sexes, across racial/ethnic groups, and for students in all ranges of performance. Notably, some mathematics achievement discrepancies narrowed; for example, the difference between white and black fourth grade student scores decreased. Average science scores on fourth grade tests also increased since 1996 (particularly those in lower and middle score ranges), but science achievement in grades 8 and 12 has been resistant to improvement.
As educators and policymakers strive to improve student learning, they continue to make changes in schooling resources and school environments. Coursetaking and content standards, teacher qualifications, and continuing professional development for teachers are among the primary elements featured in efforts to promote student achievement.
Coursetaking and Content Standards
States have been increasing academic course requirements for high school graduation since the 1980s. By 2006, most states required 3 years of both mathematics and science courses, and nearly all required at least 2 years. Coursework standards have expanded in the past decade or so to require specific courses (such as algebra) and to enhance the rigor of course content.
Trends from 1990 to 2005 show higher proportions of students completing advanced mathematics and science courses with growth especially strong in mathematics. Students also increased course completions in advanced biology, chemistry, and physics. Even so, completion rates were relatively low in 2005 for most of these advanced course categories. For the AP/IB courses, rates doubled for some and increased substantially for others; still, the most common AP/IB course, calculus, was completed by less than 10% of 2005 graduates.
Teacher Preparation and Qualifications
Most public school teachers have a bachelor's degree and are fully certified. Majorities of beginning mathematics and science teachers in public middle and high schools also participated in practice teaching before starting their first teaching job and were confident of their ability to handle its challenges. However, practice teaching declined in recent years by about 8–10 percentage points, even though participation contributes to new teachers' confidence. In high schools, large majorities of mathematics and science teachers were teaching in field; that is, they had a postsecondary major or certification in that field. However, in middle schools, about one-half of mathematics and biology science teachers and two-thirds of physical science teachers lacked these in-field qualifications. Across all mathematics and science fields, a pattern of unequal access to the most highly qualified teachers (including those with more than a few years of teaching experience) was the rule, favoring low-minority and low-poverty schools.
Participation in Professional Development
Most beginning teachers participated in induction programs or worked closely with a mentor teacher during their first year of teaching. Participation in professional development was also widespread, most often on a teacher's subject matter or on using computers for instruction. The most common formats were workshops, conferences, and training sessions. Overall, the amount of time that most teachers devoted to professional development did not reach the levels recommended by researchers.
Teacher Supply, Salaries, Working Conditions, and Job Satisfaction
Attrition from teaching is typically lower than from other professions, and attrition rates for mathematics and science teachers have mostly leveled off in recent years. Nevertheless, public secondary schools continued to experience some difficulty filling teacher vacancies in mathematics and physical sciences, and to a lesser degree, in biology/life sciences. Overall, a majority of public school teachers were satisfied with their jobs and planned to remain in teaching as long as they could. Science and mathematics teacher pay still falls behind that of many professionals with comparable education, even more so in recent years. Although dissatisfaction with pay is on the rise, public school teachers had mostly favorable perceptions of their working conditions.
High School Graduation Rates and Enrollment in Postsecondary Education
Since 1975, high school completion rates have increased slightly. In 2005, among 18–24-year-olds not enrolled in high school, nearly 90% held either a high school diploma or an equivalency credential. However, the on-time graduation rate changed little from 2000 to 2004, staying in the range of 72%–74%. Increasingly students are entering postsecondary education directly after high school. Between 1975 and 2005, the percentage of students ages 16–24 enrolling in a 2- or 4-year institution in the fall following high school graduation rose from 51% to 69%.