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Science teaching: a career choice for the 1900s and beyond.

Teaching science, like practicing science, requires a blend of imagination and logic, a solid grounding in the concepts and principles of the mathematical and natural sciences, as well as a relatively high energy level. Science teaching, because it should be consistent with the nature of science, should encourage students to raise questions about natural phenomena. Students should be provided problems which are appropriate for their developmental levels and should be actively involved in collecting, organizing and using information to solve problems both individually and in conjunction with groups of classmates. They should also be required to report their results in clear and unambiguous language, much in the way that scientists make their reports.

Careers in science teaching in the decade of the 1990s and beyond offer opportunities for young African Americans to pursue an intellectually challenging profession with rewards that very few professions can match. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 1990 that there were 64.4 million American youth age 17 or younger, with projections to increase to 67.7 million by the year 2000. According to recent enrollment data and trends reported in Projections of Education Statistics to 2002 by the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment in grades K-8 rose from 27 million students to 29.7 million students between 1985 and 1990. Projections indicate that the elementary school population is expected to increase by seven percent and secondary school enrollment by 12 percent by 1995.

There is currently more concern about science teaching and ways to improve science teaching than at any time since the 1960s. The concerns of the 1960s were generated by the launching of the satellite, Sputnik, by the USSR on October 4, 1957 and were driven by the calculated shortfall of scientists and engineers necessary to compete in the race to become the dominant power in space. The concern today runs much deeper and if addressed properly could result in changing the face of the scientific and technical workforce of the nation, including science teaching. In addition to the concern about producing an adequate number of scientists and engineers to meet national needs, there is the growing concern about the declining interest of American youth in scientific careers. The concern is exacerbated by the increasing percentage of the school-age population who come from ethnic groups that historically have been underrepresented in the sciences. Today, underrepresented children of color comprise more than 30 percent of the students in American schools and that percentage is projected to approach 50 percent early in the 21st century. This problem is compounded by the fact that at a time when children of color make up such a large percentage of the population of the nations schools, African Americans and other people of color represent single-digit percentages of the science teaching force.

Our nation's economic stability and security; the health and well-being of its citizens; and the educational competitiveness of our youth depend on whether the United States can maintain sufficient numbers of scientists, engineers, technicians, health professionals and science teachers to respond to national needs and priorities, presently and in the years ahead. The basis for the production of all scientific personnel lies in the nation's capacity to maintain an adequate supply of pre-college science teachers. The current efforts to restructure the teaching profession will undoubtedly result in greater professionalism, higher salaries, better working conditions, and more appropriate assessment techniques, which should make teaching more attractive to large numbers of the brightest and best students.

Major Employers of Science Teachers

The overwhelming majority of college graduates who major in science teaching are employed by public school systems, but private schools, representing approximately 30 percent of the schools in the nation, also provide viable employment opportunities. Textbook companies and computer software firms also employ teachers, but these companies generally employ experienced teachers. The major indicators reveal that the job market for science teachers is better than for teachers in general, and the market for teachers overall is good. One of the reasons for a strong job market is that teachers are being employed at a faster rate than the student population has grown. In addition to creating a stronger job market, this trend has lowered the pupil/teacher ratio from 18.7 to 1 in 1980 to 17.2 to 1 in 1990, according to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data. Smaller classes, particularly for the sciences, are much more conducive to laboratory-based instruction. Lower pupil/teacher ratios improve the working conditions for all teachers. A second reason for strong employment opportunities is the decrease in the number of college students pursuing degrees in teacher preparation programs. The number of bachelor's degrees awarded has declined over the past 20 years. The Digest of Education Statistics: 1991, for example, indicates that in 1970-71 a total of 177,638 bachelor's degrees were awarded in education, but by 1987 the number had decreased to 87,115, a decrease of more than 50 percent. Recent NCES data, however, reveal signs of renewed interest in public school teaching as a career. In 1980, nine percent of freshman women and two percent of freshman men reported teaching as a probable career choice, compared to approximately 13 percent of the women and three percent of the men in 1990.

Employers of science teachers tend to favor teachers with strong liberal arts backgrounds, breadth and depth of content preparation in the mathematical and natural sciences and a strong professional education background. Teachers must be able to meet the certification requirements of the State Board of Education in the state in which they plan to work. Graduates of teacher preparation programs that are accredited by state, regional, and national accrediting agencies usually have an edge in the employment arena. Since it is rare that science teachers teach only one discipline (biology, chemistry, earth science, life science, physical science or physics) it is advisable to meet and/or exceed the minimum requirements in more than one discipline.

Education Economics

According to U.S. Department of Education data, the current expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools are projected to continue the trend of increasing each year until the year 2002. The estimated increase in expenditures a for the period between 1976-77 and 1990-91 was 30 percent in constant dollars. It is estimated that for the period between 1990-91 and 2001-2002, expenditures will increase by approximately 37 percent. Educational expenditures totaled $188.1 billion in 1990-91. This trend of increasing budgets and the absolute investment of dollars in public pre-college education makes public education an economically viable and stable enterprise.

The U.S. Department of Education Statistics indicate that the number of public school teachers in 1986 was estimated to be 2.32 million. The number of elementary and high school teachers declined briefly in the early 1980s and then increased over the rest of the decade. It is projected that the number of elementary teachers will increase by 17 percent between 1990 and 2002. The number of secondary teachers will increase by 21 percent between 1990 and 2002. Of the current public school teaching force, more than 50 percent are 40 years old and over. Information in Science and Mathematics Education Briefing Book indicates that the typical science teacher is more than 40 years old with approximately 15 years of experience.

The entry-level position for recent graduates with science education majors is that of classroom teacher in secondary schools (middle school/junior high or high school). Although school districts are increasingly hiring science specialists for elementary schools, it is too early to call this a trend, and generally these positions go to experienced teachers hired from within the district. With content specialization usually beginning at the middle school or junior high school levels, most science education majors will have initial assignments as science teachers at middle, junior high or high schools. Because the larger and more progressive systems are beginning to require teachers to acquire master's degrees within a specified period of time after initial hiring dates, beginning teachers should plan to continue their study at least through the completion of the master's degree. To increase the potential for promotion to managerial positions, the combination of successful teaching experience plus advanced degrees, such as the education specialist or doctorate, is becoming increasingly important. Managerial positions available for science teachers include department or division chairpersons, science curricular coordinators for elementary or secondary schools of the district, area coordinators of science within large districts, or district-wide science coordinators. Related positions include assistant principals for instruction within individual schools, principals, assistant superintendents for instruction, or superintendents of school districts.

According to the 1991 National Center for Education Statistics, teacher salaries showed a decrease of 10 percent between 1976 and 1981, from an average salary of $33,054 to $27,436. Following this decline, salaries increased consistently to 1989-90 when the average salary reached $33,054. Mid-range projections estimate average teacher salaries to increase from $34,814 in 1992 to $44,647 in 1996.

African-American science teachers face a series of challenges and opportunities in the 1990s. The challenge centers on the historic and continuing under representation of African Americans and other people of color in the science and technology workforce. The problem begins in elementary school and continues throughout the education pipeline, from elementary school through college. According to the National Science Board's publication, Science and Engineering Indicators: 1991 Tenth Edition, African Americans and Hispanics have made considerable improvement in science and mathematics achievement, but white students have consistently higher averages than these groups. One continuing barrier to improved achievement scores for African Americans is the likelihood of them being placed in low-track classes. In general, the relative proportion of college preparatory or advanced course sections decreases as the proportion of African-American students increases. Based on several measures of teacher qualifications (certification in science, advanced degrees, and years of experience), it is clear that African-American students, other students of color, and students from low-income families have less access than other students to the best qualified teachers. African-American science teachers can serve as positive role models for students and, counsel and advise students and their parents on the importance of taking advanced level courses in science and mathematics as they relate to future educational and employment opportunities. The need to reverse the pattern of African-American students dropping out of science after the 10th grade must be addressed, and African-American science teachers have a special role in this effort based on their status as professionals of color and the unique characteristics and perspectives that they bring to the problem. African-American teachers must become advocates for African-American students at the local, state, and national levels through their participation in professional organizations. The opportunities exist for developing and presenting research and position papers on the particular problems and barriers that limit or prevent African-American access to careers in the sciences and science teaching. By becoming advocates and spokespersons for these students, African-American science teachers provide a service not only to the African-American community but to the nation. As Dr. Thomas W. Cole, Jr., president of Clark Atlanta University and an organic chemist, states, "It is time for the scientific establishment and the National Science Foundation, as one of the leaders of the establishment, to take the lead and make the commitment to reduce the underrepresentation of minorities in science and engineering.... Science and mathematics teaching is critical and concerted efforts must be made to increase the numbers and percentage of science and mathematics teachers who happen to be minorities." Dr. Frederick Humphries, a physical chemist and president of Florida A&M University, indicates that, "An effective system of science and engineering education is vital to the long-term interest of the United States as this country strives to strengthen its economy, its national defense, and the well-being of its citizens.... In addition to the concentration on the production of scientists and engineers, as important as that task is, the nation must make substantial efforts to increase the number of minority science teachers." Educators like Dr. Asa Hilliard, Calloway Professor at Georgia State University, and Dr. Abdullalim A. Shabazz, professor of mathematics at Clark Atlanta University, both express concern regarding the lack of information on the contributions of Africans and African Americans to the development of science and technology. Dr. Hillard is an outspoken critic of the practice of labeling our students with titles such as "at-risk students," preferring to refer to the situation correctly as "students who have been placed in risky situations" due to circumstances over which they have no control. In my work with pre-college students, in science and mathematics enrichment programs, I am amazed at the increasing number of African-American students who complete 10 to 12 years of public school education without the experience of having an African-American teacher in an academic subject.

African-American teachers are not only important to African-American students but white students profit from the experience of seeing African Americans in positions of authority and influence. In addition to serving as role models, these teachers bring teaching styles and interpersonal techniques that are often based on cultural influences that are easier for students of color to relate to. The mere presence of culturally sensitive teachers of color reduces the hostility and anger generated by the feelings of alienation experienced by too many African-American and other students of color.

In summary, a career in science teaching, based on the projections of continued national concern, increased spending for education overall and enrollment increases, will remain a viable option at least until the year 2002. With an increasing proportion of the public school population becoming non-white, the outlook for African Americans in science teaching is particularly bright. The clarion call nationally for school reform and improved academic achievement in science will result in the need to have better than average credentials. The call will be for the best, brightest, and most highly qualified.

Additional information about careers in science teaching can be obtained from the following organizations.

The National Science Teachers Association 1742 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20005 (202) 328-5800

The American Association for the Advancement of Science 133 H Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20005 (202) 326-6680

Dr. Melvin R. Webb is director of the Office of Naval Research Scholars Program at Clark Atlanta University.
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Title Annotation:Career Reports: Education
Author:Webb, Melvin R.
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:2377
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