No Math Teacher Shortage, Study Says

This just in from Education Week:

Two University of Pennsylvania researchers are questioning a basic tenet of national efforts to enhance U.S. economic competitiveness: the idea that colleges and universities are producing too few mathematics and science teachers to meet the demand in the nation’s classrooms.

“I admit I’m being heretical,” said Richard M. Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the university. “But it’s not that we’re producing too few math and science teachers. It’s that we’re losing too many.”

Mr. Ingersoll and his research partner, David Perda, calculate that colleges and universities are producing 2½ times more math and science teachers than schools require to replace those who are retiring.

The findings are important, Mr. Ingersoll said, because they suggest that national efforts aimed at expanding the pipeline of new math and science teachers are misdirected. If policymakers really want to ensure that those subjects are being taught by skilled teachers, he said, they ought to focus on retaining the much larger pool of science and math teachers who are already in schools.

This is a big part of the problem. There is so much head scratching about how to inspire people to pursue teaching in math and science, when the fact is we would not have such a voracious appetite if so many new teachers did not bail within a few years.

The researchers found that twice as many eligible math teaching candidates entered the field as retired in 1999-2000. But the 8,021 newly minted would-be teachers that year fell far short of the 13,750 who left for any reason. The total number of math teachers employed for that year was 182,456.

Yikes. The solutions sound familiar. Improving working conditions, mentoring and supporting new teachers, offering better pay, managing student discipline. I don't know a school that would tell you it's not trying to do some or all of these things (pay scales are a different story,,,) But I don't know how many schools do these things well. A lot depends on the principal. Perhaps the real shortage is in effective school leaders?


An interesting post script. Here is a testimonial from a middle school science teacher at an inner-city school in Oakland. She is explaining the reasons she wants to leave her job on this Edweek blog.

By Michael Alison Chandler  |  March 12, 2009; 1:12 PM ET
Previous: Obama on Math | Next: Pi Day at the Math and Science Fair


Nothing to do with the topic, but Happy Pi Day!

Posted by: tomsing | March 14, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

In other disciplines and professions there is a selection process that rejects misfits early on. This benefits not only the profession but the misfits as well since they are free to pursue other opportunities with little penalty. Think of the military and its various bootcamps. If the military life is not for you you'll likely bail out, or be thrown out, during your first 6 months.

The education world works in reverse. No matter how much of a teaching misfit you are you'll be encouraged to pursue teaching and told that you'll receive all the training you need and that you'll be valued and respected for who you are. Only after you get you first job are you told that you don't have the right stuff, except that this is after you've invested years of time and tens of thousands of dollars. One student in my education classes had such a pronounced stutter he sounded like the Michael Palin character in A Fish Called Wanda. He was a great and intelligent person, but communication was very difficult for him. Yet none of the education wizards ever suggested that teaching may not be for him; they were busy "processing" him just like everyone else.

The solution: Teacher training should be an apprenticeship program. Ideally, you should spend two years working under the direction of a successful experienced teacher -- helping with grading, planning, paperwork, etc -- before going on to being in a class by yourself. As far as the selection process goes, at the very beginning prospective teachers should teach lessons PREPARED BY EXPERIENCED TEACHERS to see how they do. Those who show no promise should be dismissed early on before they commit too much money and too much time to the process.

In this way you'll not only get better-prepared teachers teaching for the first time you'll eliminate people who'll likely quit, or get fired, after they're left alone for the first time.

As far as all those dopey education classes and bogus "masters" degrees: GET RID OF THEM ENTIRELY.

Posted by: physicsteacher | March 14, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse


Are you the same "physicsteacher" who has commented on at least one other ed blog? In any case, great post.

The bogus classes and degrees will never go away. People from the ed schools staff the state education departments and the legislative committees. In the words of Governor William J. LePetomane (the Mel Brooks character in Blazing Saddles), "We must protect our phony baloney jobs."

Okay, that's unfair. Most of these people believe what they're saying. But that doesn't make them any less wrong, and they will never never willingly let go of their jobs. Since most people think of them as the experts and since they are in a position to block any major change, the bogus courses and degrees will almost certainly be with us forever.

Posted by: RogerSweeny | March 14, 2009 8:57 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I'm the same poster who's posted to other blogs. I recognize your name. Thanks.

I realize that ed school professors won't go quietly, and, having gone through job loss myself, I really don't wish it on anyone, even ed school types. However, an idea that might work over time is to require, by law, that student teaching be a two year process and that the position be paid (to the student). Additionally, if someone flunks out of student teaching the ed school would have to reimburse that student for at least part of the tuition paid. This would provide incentives to the schools to do just a little more than playing kindergarten games and handing out A's. The schools would need to at least screen people who are likely to succeed as teachers and actually prepare them. If not, they hopefully will die through attrition.

Posted by: physicsteacher | March 15, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

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