A new report argues that an often neglected but vital avenue to improving STEM learning in U.S. schools is a concerted focus on strengthening the selection, preparation, and licensure of elementary school teachers to adequately tackle math and science material.
"We cannot wait any longer to get serious about STEM policy," declares the report from the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank. "Strengthening our elementary school teachers in math and science is the first critical step in the right direction."
The report says, for example, that prospective teachers can typically get a license to teach at an elementary school without taking a rigorous college-level STEM class, such as calculus, statistics, or chemistry, and without demonstrating a solid grasp of math or science knowledge, or the nature of scientific inquiry.
"This is not a recipe for ensuring that students have successful early experiences with math and science, or for generating the curiosity and confidence in these topics that students need to pursue careers in the STEM fields," write authors Diana Epstein and Raegan Miller, two education experts at the Center for American Progress.
The report serves up five specific recommendations:
• Increase the selectivity of programs that prepare teachers for elementary grades;
• Implement teacher compensation policies that make elementary teaching more attractive to college graduates and career changers with strong STEM backgrounds;
• Include more math and science content and pedagogy in schools of education;
• Require teacher candidates to pass math and science subsections of licensure exams; and
• Explore innovative staffing models that extend the reach of elementary level teachers with an affinity for math and science and demonstrated effectiveness in teaching them.
"The math and science competency of elementary school teachers is clearly a blind spot in our country's STEM policy," the authors write.