Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

healthcare, the provision of energy, the preservation of the environment, and the growth of the economy, including the creation of jobs.

Laying a foundation for a scientifically literate workforce begins with developing outstanding K–12 teachers in science and mathematics.1 A highly qualified corps of teachers is a critical component of the No Child Left Behind initiative.2 Improvements in student achievement are solidly linked to teacher excellence, the hallmarks of which are thorough knowledge of content, solid pedagogical skills, motivational abilities, and career-long opportunities for continuing education.3 Excellent teachers inspire young people to develop analytical and problem-solving skills, the ability to interpret information and communicate what they learn, and ultimately to master conceptual understanding. Simply stated, teachers are the key to improving student performance.

Today there is such a shortage of highly qualified K–12 teachers that many of the nation’s 15,000 school districts4 have hired uncertified or underqualified teachers. Moreover, middle and high school mathematics and science teachers are more likely than not to teach outside their own fields of study (Table 5-1). A US high school student has a 70% likelihood of being taught English by a teacher with a degree in English but about a 40% chance of studying chemistry with a teacher who was a chemistry major.

These problems are compounded by chronic shortages in the teaching workforce. About two-thirds of the nation’s K–12 teachers are expected to retire or leave the profession over the coming decade, so the nation’s schools will need to fill between 1.7 million and 2.7 million positions5 during that


See, for example, The Glenn Commission. Before It’s Too Late: A Report to the Nation from the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: US Department of Education, 2000.


No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Pub. L. No. 107-110, signed by President George W. Bush on January 8, 2001, 107th Congress.


National Research Council. Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. Schools. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2002.


National Center for Education Statistic. 2006. “Public Elementary and Secondary Students, Staff, Schools, and School Districts: School Year 2003–04.” Available at:


National Center for Education Statistics. Predicting the Need for Newly Hired Teachers in the United States to 2008-09. NCES 1999-026. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1999. Available at: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for K–12 teachers over the next 10 years will vary from good to excellent, depending on the locality, grade level, and subject taught. Most job openings will be attributable to the expected retirement of a large number of teachers. In addition, relatively high rates of turnover, especially among beginning teachers employed in poor, urban schools, also will lead to numerous job openings for teachers. Competition for qualified teachers among some localities will likely continue, with schools luring teachers from other states and districts with bonuses and higher pay. See

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement