Inadequate Math and Science Teacher Supply, Ineffective Evaluation and Support Policies

To Improve STEM Education, Washington Must Focus on Teacher Effectiveness

SEATTLE, WA – A new study on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in Washington finds that an inadequate supply of STEM teachers and ineffective teacher evaluation and support policies throughout the state are contributing to low student achievement and a widening achievement gap in math and science. Although previous research has shown that teachers have a greater impact on students’ academic success than any other school factor, the study finds that Washington’s schools do not have enough talented candidates to choose from when hiring new STEM teachers and do not provide the support their STEM teachers need to be successful. The study recommends that Washington take advantage of unprecedented levels of funding available through “Race to the Top” and other federal grants to implement bold, comprehensive reforms that will put great teachers in every STEM classroom.

The study was conducted by The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a national non-profit that works to ensure that all students get excellent teachers, and was supported by the Seattle-based Partnership for Learning. TNTP worked with the Spokane, Renton and Nooksack Valley school districts, three districts with the leadership and determination necessary to improve STEM instruction. TNTP’s researchers surveyed nearly 1,500 current teachers, more than 1,000 prospective and former teachers, and more than 100 school administrators in the three districts. Researchers also reviewed relevant laws and collective bargaining agreements and analyzed district data on teacher hiring, evaluation and performance. The full analysis is available on TNTP’s website. Key findings include:

Low achievement and a widening achievement gap in math and science: Only about half of all students in Washington meet state standards in math and science by the time they reach 8th grade. Achievement among low-income and minority students is even lower. Washington is one of fewer than 10 states where the racial achievement gap in math is growing, and the gap in math achievement between Washington’s low-income and higher-income students is the 12th largest in the nation.

Too few STEM teacher candidates and low-quality STEM instruction: Fewer than one-third of school administrators are satisfied with the number of teacher applicants in math and science, compared to an 86 percent satisfaction rate in English. Only 43 percent and 38 percent are satisfied with the quality of their school’s instruction in math and science, respectively, compared to 57 percent who are satisfied with the overall quality of instruction.

Least effective STEM instruction in the highest-need schools: Just 24 percent of administrators in high-poverty schools are satisfied with the quality of math instruction, compared to 61 percent of administrators at low-poverty schools. And just 18 percent of administrators at high-poverty schools are satisfied with the quality of science instruction, compared to 59 percent of administrators at low-poverty schools. Furthermore, administrators at high-poverty schools report having higher percentages of less effective teachers.

Ineffective teacher evaluation and support: Nearly all teachers—100 percent in one district—receive the highest ratings on their evaluations, even though both teachers and administrators say there are significant numbers of ineffective teachers in their schools. These evaluations do not give teachers the feedback they need to improve: only 30 percent of teachers said they received professional development that was based on feedback from their evaluation.

TNTP stressed the seriousness of these problems to state and local education leaders today.

“Washington is facing a crisis in STEM education that could leave a generation of students without the skills they need to succeed in the current job market,” said Daniel Weisberg, TNTP’s Vice President of Policy and General Counsel. “But it’s not too late to for Washington to address this problem, and our report provides a roadmap for getting dramatically better outcomes for students by making teacher effectiveness a top priority. The ideas we’re recommending are good for everyone involved—most importantly teachers and students—so I’m optimistic that the state government, school districts and teachers’ unions can work together to meet this challenge and make Washington a leader in STEM education.”

“Too many students in Washington and across the country are leaving school without the strong math and science skills that will help them—and our country—compete in today’s economy. That’s why improving STEM education is one of President Obama’s and Secretary Duncan’s top priorities,” said Brad Jupp, Senior Program Advisor to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “We hope that with the publication of this report, the state of Washington will redouble its efforts to improve STEM education in a way that reflects the President’s and Secretary Duncan’s belief in the power of great teachers. By focusing on attracting and retaining great talent in science and math classrooms, Washington has an opportunity to become a national model, which has been a challenge for our schools for many years.”

The report recommends that the state work towards five goals to ensure that every child learns from excellent STEM teachers:

Increase the supply of effective STEM teachers: Enact policies that will raise the number of graduates from both traditional and alternative preparation programs, and hold programs accountable for the effectiveness of the teachers they produce.

Boost the effectiveness of all teachers through rigorous evaluation and targeted professional development: Amend state law to require annual evaluations for all teachers based primarily on their contribution to student academic growth. Provide funding for and require districts to give customized professional development to teachers based on their evaluations. Help districts hold administrators accountable for differentiating the effectiveness of their teachers, providing personalized professional development and career growth opportunities, improving or removing poor performers and retaining top performers.

Retain and reward the most effective teachers and ensure that they teach the highest-need students: Fund programs that give recognition and bonuses to effective teachers in shortage-area subjects, including math and science. Set goals for districts to increase retention of effective STEM teachers and decrease retention of ineffective teachers who do not improve, especially in schools with high-need students.

Improve or remove persistently less effective teachers, and replace them with more effective teachers: Require that non-provisional status be awarded only to teachers who demonstrate and ability to promote student achievement.

TNTP also noted that in order to implement these recommendations, Washington must take full advantage of the opportunity to earn unprecedented amounts of federal education funding through “Race to the Top” and other grants.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

Learn More About TNTP