NSTA Releases Nationwide Survey of Science Teacher Credentials, Assignments, and Job Satisfaction
High Turnover of Science Teachers Requires Schools To Change
Orlando, FL, April 7, 2000—The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the world's largest organization dedicated to improving science education, today released the results of a nationwide survey of the qualifications, teaching assignments, and job satisfaction of a random sample of middle level and high school science teachers. Fifty-five percent of the 1,370 respondents are high school teachers, 38 percent teach at the middle level, and 7 percent work at both levels.
In light of recent reports citing a crisis in education created by large numbers of teachers being unprepared in their subjects and an increasing teacher shortage caused primarily by teachers retiring and student enrollments expanding, NSTA conducted this survey to assess how these reports apply to science teachers. The survey addresses teacher academic preparation and state certification, out-of-field teaching assignments, and teacher turnover and its causes.
The results demonstrate that a large number of science teachers are certified, and more than half hold a master's degree. On average, over 20 percent of the teachers have been assigned out-of-field within the last three years.
Notably, each year, at all levels of teaching experience, large numbers of the teachers surveyed are considering leaving the profession. Their dissatisfaction is a direct result of the school environment in which they work. This "revolving door" phenomenon leaves science as an academic area continually vulnerable to teacher shortages. In addition, frequent turnover of science teachers is common in about one-third of the respondents' schools and districts.
Science Teacher Turnover: A Serious Problem
Thirty-five percent of the teachers' schools and districts face frequent science teacher turnover. High schools have greater difficulty finding qualified science teachers (61 percent) than middle schools do (48 percent). Yet the top two reasons for both are the same: "not enough qualified teachers in the geographic area" and "school does not offer competitive salary to attract qualified teachers." More than half of the schools also do not have effective recruiting efforts and/or have a poor image for attracting qualified teachers. Only 8 percent of the schools offer incentives to hire qualified candidates to fill vacant science teaching positions.
As might be expected, teachers with more than 20 years in the classroom are most likely to consider leaving the profession (44 percent). Retirement is their chief motivator, followed by dissatisfaction with the job.
Most importantly, however, the survey reveals that each year a high proportion of younger teachers think about abandoning their chosen career. This includes 32 percent of science teachers with 1-3 years' experience; 37 percent of those with 4-6 years' experience; 33 percent of those with 7-9 years' experience; and 37 percent of those with 10-15 years' experience.
At all experience levels of less than 20 years, the teachers' top reason for possibly leaving their profession is job dissatisfaction. When asked to clarify the causes of their dissatisfaction, the top two reasons given by those with 9 or fewer years of experience are "poor administrative support" and "poor salary."
"It is truly alarming that so many science teachers are thinking about leaving the classroom," says Gerald Wheeler, NSTA Executive Director. "Retirement is only one contributor to teacher turnover. Continuing job dissatisfaction among teachers poses a serious threat to efforts to raise student achievement. Qualified science teachers will always be in short supply unless schools and communities address science teachers' reasons for being dissatisfied in their careers."
"Unlike other professions, teaching often offers no formal induction period or support system for newly hired individuals," says Wheeler. "Without mentoring and time for interacting with more senior colleagues, new teachers are forced to make the leap from college to the classroom on their own. It is no wonder that 'poor administrative support' is the top reason for job dissatisfaction for many new teachers, followed by 'poor salary.'"
Science Teacher Credentials and Assignments
More than half (57 percent) of the science teacher survey respondents have a master's degree. Among state science certification categories, the three in which most survey respondents are certified are general science, biology, and chemistry.
The survey asked whether the teachers have been assigned by their principals--over the past three years or at the present time--to teach a subject in which they are not certified or have not achieved at least a college minor. Over the past three years, 31 percent of the middle level teachers have been assigned out-of-field in relation to their college studies, compared with 24 percent of the high school teachers. During that same period, roughly 20 percent of both groups were assigned out-of-field based on their state certification status.
Looking at current assignments, middle level teachers are assigned out-of-field more often than their high school colleagues both in relation to their college studies and their state certification status.
When asked if they have ever taught a subject for which they had no prior coursework, approximately a quarter of all the teachers report they have.
The most commonly cited reason for principals making assignments out-of-field is to fill a vacant position for a short time (88 percent). Two other common justifications are the schools' inability to find a qualified teacher (81 percent) and/or to afford to hire someone new (77 percent).
The NSTA Survey on Science Teacher Credentials, Assignments, and Job Satisfaction was mailed in March to 5,000 randomly selected middle level and high school science teachers across the country. A total of 1,370 teachers (27 percent) responded.
NSTA announced the survey results at its 48th National Convention in Orlando. Founded in 1944, the National Science Teachers Association seeks to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. Its more than 53,000 members include science teachers of all grade levels, science supervisors, administrators, scientists, business and industry representatives, and others involved in science education.