The number of jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is growing at a rate nearly double that of non-STEM jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects there will be 9 million STEM jobs by 2022. Even those employed outside of strictly STEM fields will need, to some extent, STEM skills. To train this workforce of the near future, the United States needs an army of teachers highly trained in science, math, and technology.Too few teachers with knowledge in STEM
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), in a 2010 report, argued that teachers “… are crucial to the strategy of preparing and inspiring students in STEM.” Yet, there are too few teachers in America’s classrooms with the necessary attributes of deep content knowledge in STEM and the pedagogical skills needed to teach effectively. Exacerbating the problem is the high-turnover rate of STEM teachers.
Approximately 25,000 math and science teachers leave the profession each year. About one-third of these are retirements, but the remaining two-thirds cite job dissatisfaction as their reason for leaving. Individuals with degrees in STEM fields are financially rewarded for choosing an occupation other than education. Census wage data for 2012 reveals that the annual median income for mathematicians and statisticians is nearly $86,000; income for physical scientists is more than $71,000. Median pay for educators falls well below these at $51,000.
Money isn’t the only factor. Many teachers told PCAST they left for lack of professional support. Underfunded school budgets left teachers with more students and fewer resources. The STEM teacher shortage is felt most in high-poverty school districts, where one study cited by PCAST found that 40 percent of high school math classes are taught by teachers that did not hold math degrees.
Efforts to train, recruit and support STEM teachers
To reverse these trends, President Obama, in his 2011 State of the Union Address, challenged the private sector to help in recruiting 100,000 STEM educators over the next decade. Carnegie Corporation of New York took up the challenge. The education foundation, founded more than 100 years ago by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, assembled a group of private organizations and public institutions to join in the effort to recruit, train and support STEM teachers. The number of partners in Carnegie’s 100Kin10 initiative expanded from 27 at its launch, to nearly 200 by 2014.
Partners in the initiative have formed a network to tackle the shortage of teachers from many angles. Programs to recruit college students majoring in STEM fields, develop high-quality professional development opportunities for teachers, and implement retention strategies are part of this effort. The 100Kin10 fund actively solicits donations to provide grants in support of STEM programs in schools and other institutions.
To supplement the work done by private organizations, President Obama, in his 2015 budget, includes a $20 million appropriation request to pilot a STEM Master Teachers Corps program. This program would tap highly qualified STEM teachers to model lessons, lead professional development and mentor new teachers in STEM subjects. Teachers serving in the corps would be compensated with stipends of up to $20,000, with larger stipends going to educators that serve in high-need school districts. Legislation to create this program was introduced by Senator Al Franken in 2013. The bill is currently in committee.
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Gillian Burdett is a freelance writer covering all things home and living. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.