A new report by the National Academies’ National Research Council recommends recruiting science and mathematics scholars with doctoral degrees to become K-12 teachers to address the shortage of qualified teachers in these subjects, while possibly improving math and science education at the same time.

The report, called “Attracting Ph.D.s to K-12 Education: A Demonstration Program for Science, Mathematics, and Technology,” is part of an ongoing project to address the nation’s shortage of teachers and the shortage of research positions for postdoctoral scholars.

Approximately two-thirds of the nation’s K-12 teachers are expected to leave teaching in the next 10 years, and an increasing number of well-trained scholars with doctoral degrees cannot find jobs in their fields, the report said.

In the first phase of the project, recent graduates were surveyed to determine their interest in becoming high school teachers. After finding a high level of interest, a committee of scientists wrote this report to propose starting a National Postdoctoral Fellowship Program to encourage scholars to become teachers.

“A program to bring talented science and mathematics Ph.D.s into the nation’s K-12 classrooms could help raise the level of both teaching and learning,” said M. Patricia Morse, chair of the committee that wrote the report and a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Such a program “would offer post-docs a career path where they could help build bridges among our schools, colleges and universities, and science-rich institutions by applying their skills to support high academic standards and provide leadership in education reform efforts,” she added.

The fellowship program would select candidates for their content knowledge, commitment to K-12 education, and teaching suitability, the report said. The program would prepare participants for teacher certification and provide support during their first year.

The proposed fellowships would last two years, and fellows could expect to see a stipend of about $35,000 per year, the report said. The schools in which the fellows work as part of their teacher education would be expected to pay their stipends and benefits in the second year.

The fellowship program would start with a four-year pilot program that would place 15 fellows per year. If the program was proven to be successful, the authors recommend recruiting at least 30 fellows a year for 10 years. This would cost about $2.5 million a year, the report said.

Education experts applaud the goals of such a program, but noted it would barely begin to address the problem.

“Their program is targeted for introducing 300 teachers over the next 10 years. The problem is much bigger than that,” Jim Rubillo, executive director for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, pointed out.

Getting qualified teachers into the schools is important, he said, but you also need to develop a support program to encourage them to stay.

“It’s well documented that we loose 30 to 40 percent of teachers in the first three to four years. The primary reason is that they feel isolated; they don’t have support,” Rubillo said.

“It has been said that if we could retain all the teachers that enter the profession, we wouldn’t have a shortage,” he added. “The issue is also retention, not just recruitment.”

Carla Daniels, a spokeswoman for the National Science Teachers Association, agreed.

“We totally support a program like this, but they need to keep the teachers [in the schools]. Teacher retention is the problem,” Daniels said. “You can keep recruiting teachers, but if you can’t keep them [in the profession] you will never combat the shortage.”

Daniels said school leaders can encourage teachers to stay by including them in the decision-making process, establishing mentoring programs, expanding professional development opportunities, and raising salaries.

“Research shows that people with math and science backgrounds choose not to go into teaching because of the difference in salary” between teaching positions and private-sector professional jobs, Daniels said.

The study was funded by the National Research Council with additional support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, and the Carnegie Corp. of New York.

Links:

National Academies’ National Research Council
http://national-academies.org

“Attracting PhDs to K-12 Education: A Demonstration Program for Science, Mathematics, and Technology”
http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10433.html?onpi_topnews_073002

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
http://www.nctm.org

National Science Teachers Association
http://www.nsta.org