Layoffs or not, we must recruit STEM teachers

After two years of news articles about teacher layoffs, the average citizen  may be wondering if we still need teachers.  The question is not if, but where and in what subjects.

Despite a wave of teacher layoffs that is nothing short of tragic, California remains a world leader in science and technology, thanks to our – currently – highly skilled STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce. But for how long?

In the heart of California technological innovation, more than half of Silicon Valley’s 200,000 students are below grade level in Math or Science.  At the same time, nearly 16 percent  of schools may not be able to pay their bills over the next two years. While our students are struggling to meet even basic math and science grade level requirements, even schools that have just gone through layoffs are feeling the weight of their biggest investment in student success:  Teachers.

In California’s under-resourced communities this challenge is even more acute.  Kids didn’t receive pink slips.  Therefore, while schools are contemplating how to balance their short-term financial checkbooks, schools that have not successfully increased academic success for each student must contemplate options such as cutting teachers and increasing class size, cutting core services, or simply hoping that they will receive enough funds for teachers.   In 2008, after a five-year drop in the number of new teachers earning credentials[1], the National Science Foundation had already found that one-third of public secondary schools with vacancies in mathematics or physical sciences reported great difficulty in finding teachers to fill openings (NSF Science and Engineering Indicators).  The Sacramento Bee recently reported that teachers at low-performing schools in Sacramento County were 60 percent more likely to be laid off this past year than those at higher achieving schools. This means that teachers with a more difficult job are often the lowest paid and the first to be laid off.

At the same time, students in districts with high percentages of low-income students are often the lowest performing in math.  San Francisco Unified (poverty rate: 55%), Hayward Unified (poverty rate 60%) and Stockton Unified (poverty rate 78.9%) are the lowest performing school districts in California and have only 36% of African American students who are at least proficient in math by fourth grade[2].

In low-income schools where the need for a stable, competent cadre of teachers is increasingly vital, efforts by administrators to build strong corps of math and science teachers are being undermined. As one superintendent from a low-income district put it, “We are laying off our future.”[3] This spells disaster for low-income communities whose children just may not educated for the STEM jobs of the future.

Despite the bleak outlook, educational leaders across the state are working to address this issue with renewed vigor. The CalSTEM Pipeline Initiative was created in early 2010 to create a direct pipeline into education for potential math and science teachers.  College Track, The EnCorps Teachers Program, The New Teacher Center, The Santa Clara County Office of Education and The San Diego County Office of Education, have come together to complement existing avenues of teacher preparation with an apprenticeship into teaching math and science in underserved areas.

On the legislative side, multiple bills have been introduced to the Assembly in order to alter this perverse calculus in which low-income schools are forced to lay off large numbers of their teachers while more affluent schools are left relatively unscathed. These bills are beginning to address the unique ways that failures to teach STEM curricula compound with each passing grade and create a lack of continuity that is particularly damaging in these subject areas.

The reality is that today, California has an aging STEM workforce, and an increasingly diverse K-12 student population whose rates of educational participation and success lag behind much of the rest of the country.   We have little prospect of recruiting sufficient numbers of qualified STEM workers from other states and countries to make up the gap between the projected demand for skilled workers and the supply of qualified California graduates. If California does not take aggressive action to address the gap in math and science education, we face the very real prospect of losing our scientific and technological competitive edge over the next few decades


[1] “Teacher Supply in California 2008-2009.”  Commission on Teacher Credentialing. 2009

[2] Presentation.  “What’s right for kids.”  The Education Trust – West. 2010

[3] Source: http://m.sacbee.com/sacramento/db_99813/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=p36HzS9C&detailindex=1&pn=0&ps=2&full=true#display

This entry was posted in Achievement Gap, STEM on by .

About Jennifer Anastasoff

The founding CEO of EnCorps and its current President, Ms. Anastasoff recruits, prepares and supports math and science professionals, who are ready to transition to teaching in low income schools. Her prior work includes founding BuildingBlocks International, teaching 6th grade in Teach for America and serving as an analyst in the California Legislature. Ms. Anastasoff has a Masters in Education Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she received the prestigious Public Service Fellowship.

2 thoughts on “Layoffs or not, we must recruit STEM teachers

  1. Robert

    It’s nice to see that really smart people are thinking about this problem in unique and innovative ways.  There are some really sobering stats about the cost of this opportunity gap for students of color and how it impacts America and the economy. This is an all-encompassing issue. It is about fairness, equity, the economy, international competitiveness, etc. 18 out of 20 of the highest paying jobs are STEM related. The 15 fastest growing jobs in the US in the highest earning quartile all require a STEM degree. If students of color do not have opportunities to access those jobs, through a lack of K-12 preparation, stemming from a lack of qualified math and science teachers, then we are failing as a society and perpetuating a cycle of poverty that impacts everyone from all socio-economic levels.

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