. "The Critical Importance of Well-Prepared Teachers for Student Learning and Achievement." Educating Teachers of Science, Mathematics, and Technology: New Practices for the New Millennium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.
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Educating Teachers of Science, Mathematics, and Technology: New Practices for the New Millenium
physics, earth science, or space science) are without an academic major or minor in any one of the physical sciences” (Ingersoll, 1999).5,6 As one might expect, the situation was worse in high-poverty schools. The fact that significant numbers of the more than 314,000 current secondary school science and mathematics teachers are teaching without full certification in these subjects should cause significant concern about the science and mathematics instruction children may or may not be receiving.
These concerns are reinforced by Fetler (1999), who investigated the relationship between measures of a teacher’s experience with mathematics and educational level and student achievement in mathematics. Fetler used scores from the administration of the Stanford Achievement Test (Stanford 9) to 1.3 million students in grades 9 through 11 in 785 California high schools. The test’s content is oriented toward basic skills and its publisher claims that it is based on NCTM standards in mathematics (NCTM, 1989). Fetler found that three variables related to teacher preparation correlated with student test scores: the number of teachers in those high schools with emergency teaching permits, teaching experience as measured by years of service (excluding substitute experience), and teachers’ educational level. Specifically, (1) student test results correlated positively with amount of teaching experience, (2) lower average student test scores in a school corre-
For high-school physics teachers, Ingersoll’s data are corroborated by a recent report from the American Institute of Physics (Neuschatz and McFarling, 1999). However, Neuschatz and McFarling were optimistic about what they reviewed as an improving situation in the teaching of physics: “Contrary to widely-circulating reports, the preparation of high-school physics teachers seems to be generally, albeit slowly, improving, and cases of instructors with no physics background are rare. A third have degrees in physics or physics education, and if those with physics minors are included, the proportion approaches one-half… Virtually all the rest have a degree in mathematics or another science, or in math or science education. In the past, we have found that more than 80% had taken three or more college physics courses.” (Neuschatz and McFarling, 1999). Further, the number of people teaching physics with bachelors degrees in that discipline has increased during the 1990s: from 24 percent in 1990 to 29 percent in 1993 to 43 percent in 1997 (Neuschatz and McFarling, 1999).
Survey data collected by Neuschatz and McFarling (1999) also suggest that, at least for physics teachers, time spent teaching the subject also might influence the quality of teaching, irrespective of formal academic credentials in the discipline. Many teachers without formal credentials in physics who were surveyed in 1993 had reported that they felt ill prepared to teach the subject. When surveyed again in 1997, many of these same teachers saw themselves as adequately- or well-prepared to teach physics and attributed the change to the experience they had gained from actually preparing for and presenting the course, laboratories, and demonstrations. Neuschatz and McFarling (1999) emphasized, however, that definitive data are not yet available to determine whether the students of these experienced teachers without formal preparation in the discipline fare as well on physics examinations as students whose teachers have acquired formal credentials in physics.