How the STEM Teacher Shortage Fails Kids–and How to Fix It

by | November 6, 2014

In the U.S., STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) get a lot of press lately. But it’s still hard for leaders to connect the dots: Too few skilled STEM teachers lead to too few students embracing STEM subjects, leading to too few STEM-trained workers to fill available jobs. The consequences for students-turned-job-seekers, businesses, and the U.S. economy—where STEM jobs are an economic growth multiplier—are enormous.

The statistics are grim. In Reaching All Students with Excellent STEM Teachers: Education Leaders’ Brief and the accompanying slide deck, Public Impact lays them out and then explains how Opportunity Culture school models can help. These models extend teachers’ reach to more students, for more pay, within budget, by saving teachers time and letting them lead peers while teaching in new career paths.

This report is part of Public Impact’s commitment to 100Kin10, a national network of more than 150 partners responding to the national imperative to train 100,000 excellent STEM teachers in 10 years and keep our best STEM teachers in the classroom.

“Many of 100Kin10’s partners focus on changing the opportunities and support available to STEM teachers,” says Talia Milgrom-Elcott, executive director and co-founder of 100Kin10. “Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture effort to extend the reach of excellent teachers and pay them far more is a powerful way to address teacher shortages and retention challenges.”

Who needs this new brief and slide deck?

  • District leaders—to learn how to improve your STEM efforts
  • Teachers—to support your advocacy for meaningful professional learning and advancement
  • Teacher-prep programs—to grasp how grim things are,and steer aspiring STEM teachers toward districts offering better career opportunities
  • State policymakers—to grasp why tinkering at the edges of traditional school models isn’t enough, and how policies can make an Opportunity Culture schools feasible statewide
  • Business leaders—to understand the root of the STEM employee shortage, and to learn what education reforms will help close the gaps
  • Reporters—to understand the background statistics and ways of addressing the STEM shortage

Opportunity Culture pilot schools are already attracting far more STEM teachers, by extending the reach of excellent teachers and their teams to more students, for significantly higher pay, within regular budgets. Early implementers received 30 applications for each open position, even in high-poverty schools that could not fill positions previously. Those are teachers who otherwise might be tempted away by the higher pay and multiple advancement opportunities of other STEM careers.

In an Opportunity Culture, students can experience consistent access to excellent STEM teaching. Great teachers can stay in the classroom while they advance. They lead teams on the job with clear authority and time to plan and collaborate, specialize in their best subjects, or use age-appropriate amounts of digital instruction, without having to increase class sizes.

Excellent STEM teachers in Opportunity Culture schools are already earning 10 to 50 percent pay supplements from within their schools’ regular budgets, not temporary grants.

For example, in one of the first pilot sites, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), an excellent teacher who becomes a multi-classroom leader in a middle or high school can lead a math or science team while continuing to teach–and earn a salary supplement of up to $23,000.

Some schools are also paying supplements to all teachers who join teams that have excellent teachers as their leaders. In a country where the median starting salary for chemical engineering majors is $67,500 versus $37,200 for education majors, these supplements matter—as noted by the 40 percent of high school STEM teachers who leave teaching within their first five years, in part blaming low salaries.

Providing 100,000 excellent STEM teachers by 2021 will be challenging. Providing STEM teachers with well-paid, financially sustainable career opportunities that extend their reach to more students and teaching peers can move schools far toward that goal.

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