Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Refueling the STEM and Special Education Teacher Pipelines: Colleges and Policy Makers Have Access to Solutions That Could Reduce the Shortage of STEM and Special Education Teachers

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Refueling the STEM and Special Education Teacher Pipelines: Colleges and Policy Makers Have Access to Solutions That Could Reduce the Shortage of STEM and Special Education Teachers

Article excerpt

Policy makers and politicians across the country have increasingly prioritized improving the quality of the teacher workforce. Of particular and growing concern is the shortage of qualified teachers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. This is fueled in part by the belief that STEM education is crucial to assuring that the U.S. remains a global technology and economic leader and in part by weak U.S. student performance in mathematics and science on international comparisons.

Despite this knowledge and the consistent rhetoric about enhancing STEM supply, school systems continue to face difficulties staffing certain classrooms with qualified teachers. This is also true for special education (SPED). Over half of all districts and over 90% of high-minority districts report difficulties recruiting and retaining teachers designated as highly qualified in STEM and SPED under No Child Left Behind. School administrators across the country consistently report greater difficulty filling SPED and STEM teaching appointments compared to alternative endorsement areas (see Figure 1).

In Washington state, the setting for our discussion, the trends in teacher shortages largely mirror those observed nationally. In nearly every year since 1990, Washington has been listed as having shortages in STEM or SPED fields (U.S. Department of Education, 2015). There is new evidence that prospective teachers in Washington state endorsed to teach either in STEM or SPED find employment in public schools far more quickly than teaching candidates endorsed in other areas (Goldhaber, Krieg, & Theobald, 2013). For example, our models predict that an average prospective teacher endorsed in STEM or SPED has a 75% chance of being employed in a teaching job within three years of graduation, while the average teacher endorsed in elementary education has just a 50% chance of finding a teaching job in the same timeframe.

As it turns out, the employment advantages of STEM and SPED teachers are not short-term: Employment prospects for STEM and SPED teachers are consistently better going back to 1996, when Washington began gathering these data. However, there is little evidence that the in-state production of teachers across different training areas has adjusted to the relative needs in those areas. For instance, over the past 20 years, the production of STEM and SPED teachers by Washington state teacher training programs has remained largely static. In fact, despite all the rhetoric about the importance of STEM education, the production of STEM teachers was for many years in the 1980s substantially higher than it is today (see Figure 2).

Special education staffing issues are compounded because SPED teachers are more likely to leave the K-12 workforce than teachers in other areas. Figure 3 shows attrition rates (the percent of teachers who leave the state teaching workforce each year) by endorsement area over time. For most of the past 25 years, SPED teachers are more likely to leave the workforce in Washington state than teachers in other areas. That said, attrition rates have converged recently, a time period when the state experienced significant budget shortfalls and teachers found both retirement and outside job prospects less attractive.

We also can investigate supply and demand by endorsement area by subtracting the number of teachers who leave the workforce from the number of newly endorsed recipients within each endorsement area in a given year. A value of zero means that teacher production equals teacher attrition in that endorsement area. These estimates indicate that for a period of more than five years for SPED and more than 10 years for STEM, in-state production of endorsements has not kept up with the number of teachers exiting those fields (see Figure 4). Meanwhile, over this same period, in-state production of endorsements other than SPED and STEM have far exceeded the number of teachers exiting with these endorsements. …

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