DoE report finds large numbers of uncertified teachers in sciences

New analysis from the Department of Education highlights stretching of teachers into fields they didn't major in or receive a certificate to teach.


Large portions of U.S. high school science teachers don't hold degrees or certifications in the subjects they teach, according to a new study by the Department of Education.

In a survey (available in PDF format here) of high schools in 2007 and 2008, the Education Department's National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) found that while a majority of teachers held either a postsecondary degree or a certification in their respective areas of instruction--and many have both--significant minorities had attained neither qualification for their main assignment.

In the umbrella category of physical sciences, for instance, 56.8 percent of high school teachers had not majored in the subject. Of those, 27.7 percent had not received a certification to teach in the field. Within the physical sciences category, the lowest training mark was earth sciences, with just 23.7 percent of teachers taking a degree in the subject. And of the more than three quarters of earth sciences teachers who had not majored in the subject, more than half had not received certification in the field. Both chemistry and physics were also found to have large portions of high school teachers who either did not major in their primary subject or earn a certificate to teach it.

Experts have noted that contracting state budgets, along with a general shortage of teachers have often forced teachers into fields for which they have not earned formal training.

However, in other subjects the rates of in-field degrees and certifications were considerably higher. About 75 percent of teachers exclusively assigned to teach English, for instance, both majored in the subject and received a certificate. That compares to about 66 percent of mathematics teachers who had attained the same qualifications.

The study evaluated high school teachers' education backgrounds in 11 subject areas: English, mathematics, science, social science, French, German, Latin, Spanish, art/arts and crafts, music and dance/drama or theatre. The researchers then parsed the categories of science and social science to identify teachers' training in specific fields such as biology and economics.

The subjects within the social sciences category, most notably economics, geography and government/civics, were also marked with particularly high proportions of teachers who hadn't majored in the subject or received a certificate, though the report's authors point out that those subjects make up only a small portion of the aggregate number of classes taught in high schools.

The survey identified the most common primary assignments for high school teachers as English, with 161,300 dedicated teachers, math, with 143,600, science, with 119,800, and social science, with 119,200.

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