According to a recent report, the math and science scores for U.S. fourth- through eighth-graders improved between 2008 and 2015, but they continue to lag behind high-performing nations such as Singapore, Finland, Russia, and China. While addressing mediocre student performance—particularly in the STEM fields—was a key focus of the Obama administration, it seems unlikely that the Trump administration will provide the same level of federal support.

This punctuates the continued need to recruit well-prepared math and science teachers for P-12 schools in the United States. To improve STEM education, the effort to recruit and retain STEM teachers must likely shift more toward state and local levels.

Despite declining enrollments, colleges of education have an important role to play in the supply of teachers into the field. Yet, according to Eduventures’ most recent survey of prospective students, these programs are likely to continue experiencing difficulty recruiting STEM educators without concentrated marketing efforts to students who have traditionally shied away from colleges of education.

The Eduventures’ 2016 Prospective Student Survey reveals clear distinctions between two groups of traditional-aged prospective students who might become teachers:

  1. Those who intend to major in education as undergraduates
  2. Those who are interested in becoming teachers but do not intend to major in education as undergraduates

Most notably, the latter group (which we refer to as “Future Teachers”) is far more interested in STEM and health-related fields than the former (which we refer to as “Education Majors”).

Nearly a third of the Education Majors—those who intend to major in education—are planning to study early childhood or elementary education. Only 14% express interest in one of the federally reported shortage areas: special education, math, science, English as a second language (ESL), and bilingual education.

By contrast, at least 38% of Future Teachers—those interested in becoming teachers but not planning to major in education—are interested in a STEM or health-related field (Table 1). While they may pursue other careers, they are strong potential candidates for becoming well-prepared STEM educators given their undergraduate STEM backgrounds.

Table 1. Future Teachers’ Intended Majors

WHAT ARE YOU MOST INTERESTED IN STUDYING IN COLLEGE? FUTURE TEACHERS
Health Professions and Related Programs* 14%
Biological and Biomedical Sciences* 10%
Psychology 10%
Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services 7%
Visual and Performing Arts 6%
English Language and Literature/Letters 4%
History 4%
Engineering* 4%
Mathematics and Statistics* 3%
Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics 3%
Communication, Journalism, and Related Programs 3%
Criminal Justice 2%
Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities 2%
Physical Sciences* 2%
Agriculture, Agriculture Operations, and Related Sciences* 2%
Social Service Professions 1%
Legal Professions and Studies 1%
Social Sciences 1%
Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services* 1%

* denotes STEM field or health profession

What does this mean for Schools of Education?

Because Future Teachers plan to study STEM fields rather than education as undergraduates, institutions looking to recruit STEM teachers into their master’s degree programs are likely to find these students outside of the traditional pathways to their schools. These students may also need more focused advising to understand the pathways from a STEM major into a career in teaching.

Teacher preparation programs at the undergraduate level must also be re-imagined. For example, students interested in STEM fields and in teaching must have clearer pathways into teaching. An emphasis on rigor, career advancement, and leadership opportunities in education must also be made clear to them. This may require educating university advisors both inside and outside of the school of education.

Understanding these prospective students including their mindsets, preferences, and backgrounds, is essential to expanding the recruiting pool and identifying teachers who can meet the specific types of shortages public education faces today. For more on this topic, we encourage you to read our recent report, “Recruiting Teachers: Insights from the Prospective Student Survey.” To learn more about the Prospective Student Survey and recruiting teachers, please contact us.