Posing an ongoing challenge for California educators trying to tackle a critical teacher shortage area, the number of credentials issued to new math and science teachers in California continues to decline, according to new figures released Monday by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
In the 2014-15 school year, a total of 1,119 math credentials were issued, down 8.4 percent from the 1,221 in the previous school year. For that same year, there were 1,347 science credentials issued, down 6 percent from the 1,434 issued the year before.
The figures underscore the difficulty California still faces in addressing the longstanding shortage of math and science teachers in the state, a problem other states are also grappling with.
“The teacher supply issue that California is experiencing is definitely not limited to California,” said Joshua Speaks, legislative representative with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. “Other states are struggling to get enough teachers in the classroom. It extends through almost all disciplines. The supply problem is most acute in math and science.”
California saw many teachers leave their specialized jobs in science and math due to layoffs, budget cuts and higher pay offered in other science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, positions. The shortage in STEM teachers is nothing new, as it has trended that way for years, and even preceded the recession.
The decline in STEM teaching jobs also affected students who would have considered teaching but saw their teachers getting laid off, or getting legal notices that they were going to be laid off, Speaks explained “They stopped seeing teaching as a stable field. It lost some of its appeal,” he said.
The decline in STEM credentials is more pronounced than it is for other credentials. The state has begun to see some signs of a turnaround in total teaching credentials issued, which had fallen 26 percent from 20,032 issued in the 2009-10 school year to 14,810 in 2013-14. However the number rose nearly 3 percent last year, to 15,214.
“It is too early to claim we have turned a corner, but we are optimistic about those numbers,” Speaks said.
The Commission on Teacher Credentialing plans to discuss the teacher supply report at its two-day meeting scheduled for April 14-15.
Over the past six years, the newly released figures show a particularly steep decline of 37 percent from the 1,789 math credentials issued in the 2009-10 school year to 1,119 last year. The 1,789 science credentials issued in 2009-10 fell 25 percent to 1,347 last school year, according to the report.
Joan Bissell, director of Teacher Education and Public School Programs with California State University’s Office of the Chancellor, described the shortage of STEM teachers as a serious one.
But Bissell said that she is optimistic the state can reverse the downward spiral. The state university system believes it can place more than 18,000 STEM-credentialed teachers in the field over the next decade, she said.
A recent report issued by CSU on its math and science teacher initiative projects a need for more than 33,000 teachers in these fields over the next decade. The initiative came about in the mid-2000s as part of an effort to provide more financial support to students in the STEM teaching field, create new credential pathways, encourage collaboration between CSU’s 23 campuses and community colleges, and tap partnerships with corporate sponsors and federal laboratories.
“When you look at the STEM fields, it’s hard to say go teach when you can make gazillions (of dollars) more in industry,” said Kathy DiRanna, statewide director of WestEd’s K-12 Alliance.
One hopeful sign is that the CSU system, which produced about half of California’s credentialed teachers last year, has seen a “moderate” uptick over the past two years in the number of students applying to enroll in teacher preparation programs in math and science, Bissell said. She attributed some of the turnaround to an improved economy and an increase in grants offered to students in the teaching field.
Unlike the state as a whole, CSU has not seen a decline in the number of teachers it is graduating with math and science credentials. The university system has committed to producing 1,500 teachers in these fields annually. CSU has a goal of increasing the number of credentialed teachers 10 percent every year going forward, Bissell said.
The number of credentialed math and science teachers emerging from CSU programs doubled from 750 in 2002-03 to 1,500 in 2011-12. Since then, CSU has prepared about the same number of credentialed math and science teachers each year.
To achieve these goals, Bissell said that CSU has relied on federal grants, which has helped to support students through the preparation process. Some of the grants have come from the Robert Noyce teacher scholarship awards, which are backed by the National Science Foundation.
CSU also has developed federal partnerships with the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to provide research internships for more than 400 CSU future science teachers, Bissell said.
The investment is paying off. Since last year CSU schools saw a 9 percent increase in the number of students who have applied to all teaching preparation programs (including math and science), going from 7,069 in the 2014-15 school year to 7,705 this year, according to Bissell.
“We are starting to see a pattern emerge,” she said.
Bissell said that current legislative efforts in Sacramento to tackle a teacher shortage in the state could help boost the pool of applicants even more. She pointed to one proposal offered by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, that would reinstate a student loan forgiveness program for new teachers.
The Legislature terminated funding for the program during the recession. The Pavley proposal, SB 62, would bring back the original Assumption Program of Loans for Education with some changes. To qualify, teachers must agree to teach a minimum of four years in schools with large numbers of low-income students, in a rural school, or in one with a large number of teachers on emergency permits rather than full credentials.
“It is a major priority” to attract more teachers into the math and science field, Bissell said.
“People are not going into math and science the way they need to,” said Kathy DiRanna, statewide director of WestEd’s K-12 Alliance. She referred to a revolving door of STEM teachers who often leave for greener fields outside of the profession.
“When you look at the STEM fields, it’s hard to say go teach when you can make gazillions (of dollars) more in industry,” said DiRanna. “This won’t be a preferred choice, or field to work in, if other STEM fields pay more money, or are more prestigious,” she said. “I don’t want you to say teachers need more money, but the system needs to change.”
President Barack Obama made recruiting math and science teachers a priority of his administration.
The nation’s 100Kin10 initiative initially grew from a call in 2010 from leaders across industry, business, academia and government who wanted to bring 100,000 STEM teachers into classrooms over the coming decade. That call was given a boost by Obama in his 2011 State of the Union address.
“Over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math,” Obama said. “In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child – become a teacher. Your country needs you.”
Talia Milgrom-Elcott, executive director of the New York-based 100Kin10 initiative, which works with a network of 280 partners to help train and recruit teachers in STEM fields, said more than 28,000 teachers nationwide have been trained since Obama’s call to action. The program is a third of the way toward achieving its goal of training 100,000 by 2021.
“It’s an extremely difficult environment for teacher recruitment,” Milgrom-Elcott said. “There are a lot of challenges around assessments, accountability and layoffs,” she said. Additionally, she said, salaries, working conditions and prestige make it difficult to recruit in a profession where demand and pay have risen in other STEM fields.
She cited as examples math professionals hired at hedge funds and auto mechanics who need to understand software programming to perform their jobs. “Other sectors are increasing recruiting and demanding STEM skills,” Milgrom-Elcott said.
She couldn’t immediately say how many of the 28,000 teachers trained through the initiative are in California, or how much money has been invested in local programs through its partners.
Of 100Kin10’s nationwide network of partners, about a quarter are working in California.
In California, Milgrom-Elcott said she is hearing from network partners that the training is beginning to pay off. More STEM teachers are entering the profession – something she hopes is happening in other parts of the country as well.
“As California goes, so goes the nation,” she said.