Teacher quality is one of the most important factors influencing student learning. Students’ achievement in mathematics and science depends in part on their access to high-quality instruction in those subjects. Many factors affect teacher quality, including qualifications, ongoing professional development, attrition, and working conditions. The 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education (NSSME), the fifth in a series of surveys of mathematics and science teachers first administered in 1977, provides a comprehensive review of these topics (Banilower et al. 2013). The 2012 NSSME is a nationally representative survey based on a sample of 7,752 mathematics and science teachers in elementary and secondary schools across the United States. This section highlights the major findings of the NSSME and supplements those findings with national data on teacher attrition from the U.S. Department of Education’s Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study (BTLS).
Extensive research suggests that high-quality teaching has a positive effect on student achievement (Boyd et al. 2008; Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor 2007; Goe 2008; Guarino, Santibanez, and Daley 2006; Hanushek 2011; Harris and Sass 2011), but the specific teacher characteristics that contribute to student success are less clear. Some studies have cast doubt on whether commonly measured indicators, such as teachers’ licensure scores or the selectivity of their undergraduate institutions, are related to their teaching effectiveness (Boyd et al. 2006; Buddin and Zamarro 2009a, 2009b; Hanushek and Rivkin 2006; Harris and Sass 2011; Sass et al. 2012). Efforts to improve measures of teaching quality have proliferated in recent years. Recent efforts have focused on “value-added” models—strategies for measuring teacher effectiveness by comparing test score gains of students in the same school who have similar backgrounds and initial scores but different teachers (Baker et al. 2010; Goldhaber, Liddle, and Theobald 2013; Hanushek and Rivkin 2006; Harris and Sass 2011; Loeb, Kalogrides, and Béteille 2012). Following this line of research, some researchers, including the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project and the National Center for Teacher Effectiveness (NCTE), have attempted to establish composite indicators for effective teaching (Kane et al. 2013; MET Project 2012; NCTE 2013).
This section reports on several indicators of teacher quality that are available from major national studies, including teaching experience, professional certification, in-field preparation (i.e., earning a postsecondary degree in the teaching field), content coursetaking, and teachers’ self-assessment of their preparation. Other less easily observed characteristics may also contribute to teacher effectiveness, including teachers’ abilities to motivate students, engage students in learning, maximize instruction time, and diagnose and overcome students’ learning difficulties. However, these characteristics are often difficult and costly to measure and therefore are rarely included in nationally representative surveys.
Teaching Experience. In general, as teachers gain more years of experience, they become more effective in helping students learn (Boyd et al. 2006; Harris and Sass 2011; Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor 2007; Rice 2010). Recent studies have found that novice teachers (i.e., teachers with 2 or fewer years of experience) are more likely than experienced teachers to work in high-poverty, high-minority schools and teach low-achieving students (Loeb, Kalogrides, and Béteille 2012; LoGerfo, Christopher, and Flanagan 2012; Sass et al. 2012). According to data from the NSSME, in 2012, the percentage of novice mathematics teachers ranged from 10% to 14% in elementary, middle, and high schools, whereas the percentage of novice science teachers ranged from 13% to 16% across the school levels (figure
Schools with the highest proportions of low-income students were more likely than other schools to have novice science teachers. In schools with the highest concentrations of students eligible for free/reduced-price lunch (FRL) (i.e., 75%–100% of students), 23% of science classes were taught by teachers with 2 or fewer years of experience, compared with 10% of science classes in schools with the lowest concentrations of FRL-eligible students (i.e., 0%–25% of students) (figure
A similar pattern was seen across mathematics and science for non-Asian minority students. Science classes with the highest percentages of non-Asian minority students were more likely to have novice science teachers (21%) than were classes with the lowest percentages of non-Asian minority students (14%), but such differences were not observed for mathematics teachers (appendix table
Higher-achieving students tended to have more experienced mathematics teachers. For example, 15% of math classes composed of mostly low achievers had mathematics teachers with 2 or fewer years of experience, whereas 8% of math classes composed of mostly high achievers had such mathematics teachers (appendix table
Certification. Each state requires public school teachers to earn a certificate that licenses them to teach. States set criteria for various types of certification; usually a full certification entails a combination of passing scores on tests, a bachelor’s degree with a specified number of credits in education and in the discipline taught, and supervised practice teaching experience (NCTQ 2013). Criteria for certification vary among grade levels, with elementary teachers usually certified to teach multiple subjects and high school teachers certified within subject areas. Whether middle school teachers are certified in multiple subjects or individual subjects varies across states.
Fully certified teachers are distinguished from those who are granted alternative certificates. Alternative certificates are issued to persons who must complete a certification program in order to continue teaching, those who have satisfied all requirements except the completion of a probationary teaching period, and those who require some additional coursework or need to pass a test.
The NSSME reported four different paths to full and alternative certification: an undergraduate program leading to a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate; a post-baccalaureate program leading to a certificate; a master’s program that also awarded a teaching certificate; and no formal teacher preparation. Elementary mathematics and science teachers were the most likely to have earned a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate as part of an undergraduate program: about 60% of elementary teachers of mathematics and science followed this path to certification, compared with 48% of high school mathematics teachers and 34% of high school science teachers (table
Some studies have shown that fully certified mathematics and science teachers are more prevalent in low-poverty and low-minority schools (NSB 2012). Students from disadvantaged backgrounds (minority students, low-SES students, and those whose first language was not English) are more likely than their counterparts to be taught by mathematics or science teachers with alternative certification (LoGerfo, Christopher, and Flanagan 2012). The NSSME did not report data on this issue.
Degree in Field and Content Coursetaking. Over the past decade, few issues related to teaching quality have received more attention than in-field teaching in middle and high schools (Almy and Theokas 2010; Dee and Cohodes 2008; Peske and Haycock 2006). In-field teaching refers to the assignment of teachers to teach subjects that match their training or education. To some extent, this emphasis can be traced back to the implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which mandated that all students have teachers who demonstrate subject area competence. To determine whether teachers have subject-specific preparation for the fields they teach, recent research has focused on matching teachers’ formal preparation (as indicated by degree major, certification field, or both) with their teaching field (Hill and Gruber 2011; McGrath, Holt, and Seastrom 2005; Morton et al. 2008). The NSSME followed a similar approach, using teachers’ degree field and postsecondary coursework completed in mathematics and science as indicators of preparation to teach mathematics and science at the elementary, middle, and high school levels (Banilower et al. 2013).
In 2012, 82% of high school science teachers and 73% of high school mathematics teachers held degrees in their teaching field or in science or mathematics education (table
Many secondary science classes, especially at the high school level, focus on more discrete areas of science, such as biology or chemistry. In 2012, biology teachers were the most likely among high school science teachers to have a degree in their specific teaching field, with 53% having a degree in biology (appendix table
According to the NSSME data, the likelihood of middle and high school classes being taught by a teacher with in-field preparation varied by the concentration of high or low achievers in both mathematics and science classes and by the percent of non-Asian minority students in mathematics classes. For example, 61% of mathematics classes and 76% of science classes composed mostly of high-achieving students were taught by teachers with an in-field degree, compared with 49% of mathematics classes and 50% of science classes composed mostly of low-achieving students (appendix table
Although elementary school teachers are not generally expected to have degrees in mathematics or science, both the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) have recommendations for the number and types of courses that elementary teachers should take to be adequately prepared to teach these subjects (Banilower et al. 2013). The NSTA suggests that elementary science teachers have one course each in life, earth, and physical sciences. In 2012, 36% of elementary school teachers met this standard, and 38% had taken courses in two of the three areas (figure
Self-Assessment of Preparedness to Teach. Elementary teachers were much more confident in their ability to teach mathematics than in their ability to teach science: 77% of elementary teachers felt very well prepared to teach mathematics, but just 39% reported being very well prepared to teach science (figure
Middle and high school teachers of mathematics and science who were surveyed in the NSSME were asked about their perceived level of preparedness to teach subtopics within their major subject areas. High school chemistry teachers were the most likely to report feeling very well prepared to teach topics in their discipline, ranging from 66% for properties of solutions to 83% for elements, compounds, and mixtures (appendix table
In mathematics, high school teachers were generally more likely than middle school teachers to report feeling very well prepared to teach most topics. For example, 91% of high school teachers reported feeling very well prepared to teach algebraic thinking, compared with 76% of middle school teachers (appendix table
Self-Assessment of Preparedness for Tasks Associated with Instruction. In the NSSME, mathematics and science teachers were also asked how well prepared they felt to manage tasks associated with instruction, including handling classroom discipline and encouraging underrepresented groups to participate in their subject. The majority of respondents felt very well prepared to handle classroom discipline, with elementary school teachers most likely to feel prepared (about 70% compared with about 60% of middle and high school teachers) (table
Professional development enables teachers to update their knowledge, sharpen their skills, and acquire new teaching techniques, all of which may enhance the quality of teaching and learning (Davis, Petish, and Smithey 2006; Richardson and Placier 2001). Research indicates that teacher professional development can have measurable effects on student performance. For example, an analysis examining outcomes across 16 studies of professional development for mathematics and science teachers found that professional development had significant effects on student performance in mathematics (CCSSO 2009). The 2012 NSSME collected data on how recently mathematics and science teachers participated in subject-specific professional development and how many hours they spent on professional development in the past 3 years.
Recent Participation. A majority of middle school and high school mathematics and science teachers participated in at least one professional development activity focused on mathematics or science in the last 3 years. The rates for middle and high school science teachers ranged from 82% to 89% (table
Time Spent. In the NSSME, teachers were asked to report the number of hours that they had spent on subject-specific professional development in the past 3 years. About 36% of high school science teachers and 32% of high school mathematics teachers reported that they had spent more than 35 hours participating in subject-specific professional development activities in the past 3 years (table
Teachers’ perceptions of their working conditions play a role in determining the supply of qualified teachers and influencing their decisions about remaining in the profession (Darling-Hammond and Sykes 2003; Hanushek, Kain, and Rivkin 2004; Ingersoll and May 2012; Ladd 2009; Johnson et al. 2004). Mathematics and science teachers are more likely than other teachers to cite job dissatisfaction as a reason for leaving teaching (Ingersoll and May 2012). Safe environments, strong administrative leadership, cooperation among teachers, high levels of parent involvement, and sufficient learning resources can enhance teachers’ commitment to their schools, promote job satisfaction, and improve teachers’ effectiveness (Berry, Smylie, and Fuller 2008; Brill and McCartney 2008; Guarino, Santibanez, and Daley 2006; Ingersoll and May 2012). Among the working conditions that contribute to teachers’ dissatisfaction are lack of administrative support, low parent involvement, and student discipline problems (Ingersoll and May 2012; Guarino, Santibanez, and Daley 2006). Moreover, teacher job satisfaction and retention rates tend to be lower in schools with high proportions of minority, low-income, or low-achieving students (Berry, Smylie, and Fuller 2008; Hanushek, Kain, and Rivkin 2004; Ingersoll and May 2012).
The NSSME provides extensive data on working conditions that affect teachers’ perceptions of their school environments. Mathematics and science program representatives at each school site were asked to identify which school factors inhibited or promoted effective instruction in their subject area. Mathematics program representatives were more likely to report that their schools were supportive of math instruction than science program representatives were to report that their schools were supportive of science instruction. For example, 82% of mathematics program representatives reported that the importance their school placed on subject teaching promoted effective instruction in mathematics, whereas 60% of science program representatives reported so for instruction in science (appendix table
School program representatives were also asked to rate the extent to which several factors were problems for instruction. These included student factors such as high absenteeism, lack of student interest, low reading ability, and inappropriate behavior; teacher factors such as lack of teacher interest and insufficient time to share ideas; and school factors such as inadequate funds for equipment. Representatives were asked to classify issues on a scale, ranging from “not a significant problem” to “a serious problem.”
For science instruction, one of the most frequently cited problems was inadequate funds for purchasing equipment: about 30% of program representatives in elementary, middle, and high schools reported this as a serious problem for science instruction (table
In the NSSME data, both mathematics and science teachers in high-poverty schools found student behavior problems to be a greater barrier to effective instruction than did teachers in low-poverty schools (Banilower et al. 2013). Teacher behavior was also more frequently seen as a problem in high-poverty schools compared with low-poverty schools, though to a far lesser extent than student behavior.
In view of the potential for large numbers of teachers to retire in the next few years and the importance of improving students’ mathematics and science achievement, both government (The White House 2012) and advocacy organizations (see sidebar “100Kin10”) seek to prepare more new mathematics and science teachers to ensure that there is an ample supply of highly qualified teachers in these subjects. If, however, new teachers leave the profession within a few years of beginning teaching, attrition may negate efforts to expand the teaching force (Ingersoll and Perda 2010). A recent study found that teacher attrition varied greatly among schools, and that high-poverty, high-minority, and urban public schools had the highest mathematics and science teacher turnover (Ingersoll and May 2012).
Annual attrition rates among public school teachers, measured by the Teacher Follow-up Survey six times since 1988–89, indicate that mathematics and science teachers leave the profession at about the same rates as all teachers do (NSB 2012). Eight percent of all 2007 teachers had left the profession by 2008, and the corresponding rates for mathematics and science teachers were similar (8% and 9%, respectively) (NSB 2012).
The Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study (BTLS) expands the ability to measure teacher attrition from 1-year rates to cumulative rates for each of the first 5 years of teaching. It focuses specifically on the attrition rate of beginning teachers rather than yearly attrition rates for all teachers. Beginning teachers who entered the profession in 2007–08 were surveyed in their first year and again in each of the next 4 years to gather information on their early careers. This section reviews data from the first 3 years of the study.
Although rates of attrition after the first year of teaching in the BTLS were not significantly different among mathematics and science teachers and teachers of other subjects at the secondary level, the situation changed by the third year of teaching. At the secondary level, beginning mathematics and science teachers’ rates of attrition by their third year of teaching were higher than the rates of those who taught other subjects. Whereas 10% of other secondary-level teachers had left the profession by 2009–10 (their third year of teaching), 25% of secondary mathematics and science teachers had departed by then (figure