Study reports math and science teacher shortages

Some say the lack of teachers in these fields is due to job dissatisfaction.

by Anthony Carranza

A new study by think tank Minnesota 2020 revealed shortages of math and science teachers throughout the state’s elementary and high schools.

More than half of the 366 superintendents participating in the study cited in the story reported an “extreme shortage” in math and science, and nearly half identified a teacher shortage in special education.

Tamara Moore, associate professor of mathematics education, said the problem of teacher shortages is not caused by bigger student populations, but instead by the high turnover rate among high school teachers.

A study by the National Science Teacher Association found turnover is increasing. Overall, the amount of turnover accounted for by retirement is relatively minor when compared to that resulting from other causes – such as job dissatisfaction and teachers seeking to pursue better jobs or other careers.

The University Department of Curriculum and Instruction is running a program to address part of the issue involving retention.

“We run a program through the University that is designed to support new science teachers and improve their job satisfaction with the goal of both retaining them,” Gillian Roehrig, associate professor in the department of instruction, said.

The University has been tracking 45 beginning science teachers in Minnesota as part of an NSF-funded grant.

To date, the longitudinal study has only lost two teachers in the three years it has been running, Roehrig said.

“There is a large push today to increase math and science ability in Minnesota students driven by our large high-tech sector,” John Fitzgerald, a researcher for Minnesota 2020, said. “Employers want a good employee pool and colleges have to create good science and math graduate students.”

Brant Miller, University teaching assistant in engineering education, said money is a big issue when it comes to teachers.

“I think there are not enough resources for teachers and they leave after five years into the job,” he said.

Miller said increasing pay for teachers is one way to eliminate the shortage and creating more mentoring programs for teachers can help eliminate some of the loss as well.

Larry Gray, head of the University’s School of Mathematics, said the state places higher expectations on students than in the past.

“The demand in the public schools for math teachers has increased because math has become a bigger deal,” he said.

One doctoral student and a graduate fellow are collaborating with Roehrig collecting data.

Tina Louise Tyler, a first-year University graduate student, aspires to become a science teacher.

“Before I came to the ‘U’ I did infectious disease research in my undergrad,” Louise Tyler said. “I noticed when I worked in the lab many students did not understand the concepts of science, so I always wanted to teach.”

Younkyeong Nam, an international graduate student who also collaborates on this grant, wants to teach earth sciences.

“I taught earth sciences in South Korea for four years,” Nam said. “I am aware of the shortages in K through 12, but my interest is research.”

Nam said she would rather teach at the university level because research is not offered at the level of elementary and high school.