Between 2017 and 2027, STEM jobs are projected to increase by 13 percent. This rise in science, technology, engineering and math job opportunities makes quality STEM education essential to the workforce of the future. Yet, according to the National Math and Science Initiative, very few students are prepared to take collegiate level STEM courses.
Despite the need for students to be prepared to enter into STEM jobs at higher rates than in the past, there has been a decline in the amount of STEM educators throughout the United States.
Roger Moore, Atlanta-based Southern Legislative Conference policy analyst who has studied STEM education, said that the STEM workforce is growing faster than the rest of the job market. Yet, despite this, openings for science and math instructors are continuing to grow and many teachers who are being hired do not have the necessary background to teach these subjects.
More than 50 percent of school districts across the United States have reported struggling to recruit and retain teachers for their STEM classes. This statistic accounts for all grade levels from kindergarten to 12th grade.
California has been combating a decline of math and science teachers in their state in recent years, making it difficult for them to meet the needs of all of their students. Between the 2015 and 2016 school year, California school districts saw an 8.4 percent decline in mathematics teachers and 6 percent in science.
“The teacher supply issue that California is experiencing is definitely not limited to California. Other states are struggling to get enough teachers in the classroom,” said the legislative representative for the California Commision on Teaching Credentialing Joshua Speaks.
This shortage has led to teachers who have not majored in a specific topic teaching these essential classes. In Arizona, it was reported that only 20 percent of math teachers majored in mathematics- falling short of the already low national percentage of 31.
According to the U.S News and World Report, teachers teaching subjects that are not their niche is extremely common amongst science, technology, engineering and math classes. The amount of educators with degrees relating to the STEM class they are teaching is significantly lower than in English.
The shortage of STEM educators is prevalent enough that it can be seen in almost every state in America- but it may even be more severe than these statistics show. This only accounts for vacant spots. As Real Clear Education points out, this does not even factor in possible removal of courses due to overall lack of personnel.
This leads to the question of how can we keep America globally competitive if the STEM education system is not preparing students to tackle the global issues of the future?
Former deputy director of STEM initiatives at the U.S Department of Education Melissa Moritz said, “without a great STEM teacher in every classroom, we will continue to fall short- depriving students of opportunities and hindering economic progress.”
Mortiz’ op-ed also addresses finding ways to get STEM educators to stay in the classroom instead of leaving to pursue other STEM jobs. These other options may be more lucrative; however, the need for quality STEM education is essential to the future of the United States. Mortiz suggests that school districts offer ways for teachers to expand their teaching experience in order to keep them active in their current job.
In order to stay amongst the top nations, the United States has to continue to make scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements. For this to be possible, the workforce of the future must be properly prepared to enter into these STEM jobs and be effective in these positions.
But, how do we increase the amount of STEM teachers?
The quick answer is to increase teacher wages. While this may make more young individuals inclined to pursue a teaching profession, this alone will not solve the problem. Beyond the overall shortage of teachers, there is the issue of teachers with the proper STEM background to help their students excel.
The solution requires the effort and involvement of both the school districts and the federal government. Young people need to be encouraged to become teachers and focus on science, technology, engineering and math subjects. They also need to be given the training necessary for them to give quality education to all of their students.
According to James A. Ejiwales Barriers to Successful Implementation of STEM Education, “to ensure that potential STEM teachers graduate from college and have a full mastery of their teacher subjects, the curriculum should be expanded to expose them to the nitty-gritty of subject content.”
There is a direct correlation between how much a teacher knows about the subject they are teaching and how well the student does. The Monk Longitudinal Survey of American Youth found that a students success in AP level courses could be traced back directly to how many courses their teacher had taken on the subject. Further, their research found that for every additional course the teacher had taken, a 1.2 percent increase in student success could be found.
There is overwhelming evidence that this issue needs to be addressed now. With every passing year, America is falling more and more behind as students do not receive the STEM education they need to fill these rising STEM job vacancies. Through pushes locally and nationally, we can get more students interested in becoming a STEM teacher. Then, once they have entered into that field, they will be able to receive the intensive training in their designated field that is necessary to give their students the opportunity to excel in STEM classes.