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California Needs More Math and Science Teachers

Niu Gao, Patrick Murphy February 27, 2018
High school science teacher talking with students in chemistry lab

Recent reforms in educational standards—including the Common Core math standards and the Next Generation Science Standards—have altered the expectations placed on California’s teachers. Other changes, such as requiring college prep courses for high school graduation, will further increase the demand for math and science teachers. The state’s teacher workforce has already changed significantly in the past 15 years, but it will need to further evolve to meet the demands of the future.

These are a few of the challenges ahead:

  • Although the number of math and science teachers has increased in the state, there are fewer of them than in other core subjects. As a result, the average class size in math and science at all levels is larger in California than in other states. For instance, the average class size for high school science in California is 27, well above the national average (22). Similarly, average enrollment in high school math is 25, which is again higher than the national average (21).
  • The teacher workforce in math and science is aging rapidly. In 2016, the median age of the state’s math and science teachers was 44, three years older than the national average. In the next five years, California will need to replace at least 11% of these teachers due to retirement. About 12% of districts will need to replace at least 20% of their teachers.
  • The composition of the teacher workforce in math and science has changed in recent years, yet it still does not reflect the diversity of California students. In the 2000–01 school year, only 10% of math and science teachers were Latino; today, 17% of them are (while 54% of the student body is Latino). The share of Asian teachers has increased slightly, while the share of African American teachers remains unchanged. Research shows that teachers of color play a critical role in helping students of color succeed.

As California’s schools continue to implement new math and science standards, the challenge of developing a larger and more diverse teacher workforce will loom large. There are examples of efforts both in California and in other states designed to address some of these challenges. For example, Call Me MISTER in South Carolina aims to recruit college students to increase the incoming teacher pool, while other programs—like Boston Public Schools’ High School to Teacher Program—reach out to students in high schools. In addition, some programs focus on recruiting members of the local community (e.g., Teach Tomorrow in Oakland, the San Francisco Teacher Residency program, and the Grow Your Own programs in Illinois).

These initiatives represent potential models, but they would need to scale up quickly to address the challenges ahead. PPIC’s ongoing research into the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards suggests that the high demand for quality science teachers is an emerging implementation concern.


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