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Bruno: Is NCLB Turning Off Science Teachers? Probably Not.

2230056357_e1fb0330a5_nAt the beginning of November Anthony Cody and John Richard Schrock published some troubling charts indicating that the number of new science teachers credentialed each year by the state of Kansas had dropped dramatically. They speculated that "schools' overemphasis on test scores" was driving away potential science teachers who prefer "creative" teaching to "drill-and-test".

Schrock's charts should be a cause for major concern, but I was curious whether NCLB-type education reform was really causing the science teacher supply to dry up.

As it turns out, NCLB probably didn't have much to do with the decline in Kansas, and in other states like California there hasn't even been any real dropoff.

For one thing, the charts of the Kansas data clearly show that the declines began prior to NCLB - which, remember, wasn't signed into law until 2002. Kansas has also had a particularly contentious relationship with science education recently, and a state that is perceived as hostile to science education is probably going to have a hard time recruiting science educators.

More fundamentally, do we really think science teachers are more vulnerable to testing forces than other teachers? As a science teacher myself I feel if anything relatively insulated from many of the NCLB-related pressures placed on my colleagues in the math and English departments. I'm similarly doubtful that my field is significantly more creative than those of other teachers.

With all that in mind I decided to take a look at the numbers for my own state - California - to see if similar trends are apparent here. With some help from the folks at the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing I was able to put together what I think are analogous numbers for the Golden State. I'll put a few charts below the fold, but the bottom line is that the difficulties Kansas is having recruiting science teachers do not appear to be consistent across the country.

This suggests that NCLB is not a major cause of the problem. Where Kansas has seen a massive drop in new biology teachers since 1999-2000 - ~85% by Schrock's numbers - California's numbers have held pretty steady. 

Newcredentialsbio

Chemistry is another subject where Kansas has seen precipitous drops in new teachers. Again, though, California seems not to have had this problem:

Newcredentialschem

There are some fluctuations in those numbers from year to year, but there's no obvious "NCLB effect" here, either.

These patterns in California are pretty consistent across the different science subject areas. Here's what the numbers look like for all new single-subject science credentials:

Newcredentialsallscience

It's certainly conceivable that NCLB is putting downward pressure on these numbers, but that is by no means obvious from the raw data. If anything, the numbers suggest to me that whatever the effects of NCLB on science teacher recruitment, they likely are swamped by other factors like economic conditions and political environments. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.