Slow off the Mark: Elementary School Teachers and the Crisis in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education.

Type Journal Article - Center for American Progress
Title Slow off the Mark: Elementary School Teachers and the Crisis in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education.
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2011
You can’t throw a stone without hitting a STEM initiative these days, but most
science, technology, engineering, and math initiatives—thus the STEM acronym—
overlook a fundamental problem. In general, the workforce pipeline of elementary
school teachers fails to ensure that the teachers who inform children’s early
academic trajectories have the appropriate knowledge of and disposition toward
math-intensive subjects and mathematics itself. Prospective teachers can typically
obtain a license to teach elementary school without taking a rigorous college-level
STEM class such as calculus, statistics, or chemistry, and without demonstrating
a solid grasp of mathematics knowledge, scientific knowledge, or the nature of scientific
inquiry. This is not a recipe for ensuring that students have successful early
experiences with math and science, or for generating the curiosity and confidence
in these topics that students need to pursue careers in STEM fields.
“No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in
Mathematics by America’s Education Schools” by the National Council on
Teacher Quality, documented the need for more rigorous mathematics preparation
of elementary level teacher candidates.1
And in the two years since its
release, very little has changed—despite evidence showing that elementary school
students have higher achievement in mathematics when their teachers know more
about how to teach math well.2
In this report, we focus on the selection and preparation of elementary school teachers,
most of whom will be required to teach mathematics and science when they
enter the classroom. It is elementary school mathematics and science that lay the
foundation for future STEM learning, but it is elementary school teachers who are
often unprepared to set students on the path to higher-level success in STEM fields.
In order to improve STEM learning, we must strengthen the selection, preparation,
and licensure of elementary school teachers. We need higher standards for
selection into teacher preparation programs—standards that include demonstrated
proficiency in math and science at a level that is far higher than our current 2 Center for American Progress | Slow Off the Mark
pool of teacher candidates. Elementary grade teacher preparation programs must
include more—and more rigorous—math and science courses in both content
and pedagogy, and teacher candidates must perform in these courses at the high
levels that we would expect of our students.
Furthermore, states must strengthen their licensure requirements so that teachers
cannot obtain a license without passing the math and science sections of
the exams. Finally, alternative certification programs should continue to recruit
candidates who were STEM majors in college or are STEM professionals, and
their licensure should be streamlined in order to get them into classrooms as soon
as they are ready.
These steps represent a dramatic departure from current policy, but serious action
is needed now in order to improve the prospects for our future global competitiveness.
We cannot wait any longer to get serious about STEM policy. Strengthening
our elementary school teachers in math and science is the first critical step in the
right direction. To that end, we make five specific recommendations in this report:
• Increase the selectivity of programs that prepare teachers for elementary grades
• Implement teacher compensation policies, including performance-based pay,
that make elementary teaching more attractive to college graduates and careerchangers
with strong STEM backgrounds
• Include more mathematics and science content and pedagogy in schools
of education
• Require candidates to pass mathematics and science subsections of licensure exams
• Explore innovative staffing models that extend the reach of elementary level
teachers with an affinity for mathematics and science and demonstrated
effectiveness in teaching them
As we will demonstrate, improving the ability of our elementary school teachers
to teach the facts, concepts, and procedures critical to success in STEM fields
is required if our nation is to succeed in the globally competitive arena of the
21st century.

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