Bob Goodman, director of the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning, recently told EdScoop that the shortage of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers has the greatest impact on minority and low-income students. This results in fewer STEM-related opportunities for students in these groups.
In 2013, fewer than 30% of Hispanic and black students had taken physics classes while in high school. This figure compares to 39% of all high school students in the U.S. Physics is considered a building block for other STEM career pathways.
This gap is blamed on the the lack of STEM teachers, which is partly caused by STEM graduates being recruited into more lucrative careers. In addition, there are only about 6,000 undergraduates majoring in physics, but there are currently about 30,000 vacancies for physics teachers.
Efforts are underway to bring more STEM teachers into the classroom. The 100Kin10 initiative, for example, is working with academic institutions, nonprofits, foundations and companies to put 100,000 STEM teachers in classrooms by 2021.
But despite these efforts to fill STEM teacher vacancies, the gap persists. One problem is that it is difficult to attract STEM teacher talent in rural districts. There is also a lack of funds for STEM programs. Superintendents are getting creative with finding new funds for STEM by partnering with businesses and community groups. There are approximately 8.9 million rural students in the U.S, which make up 20% of the American student population.
Video teaching is touted as one solution for addressing teacher shortages. Videoconferencing eliminates the need for a STEM-trained teacher to relocate to a small town, and schools and districts can share the cost of a video conferencing teacher. The money saved could be spent on purchasing STEM class supplies.
Ideally, there would be an adequate supply of STEM teachers, but that reality is a long way off. Videoconferencing, business partnerships and other forms of collaboration are necessary if the education system is to keep up with the demand for STEM-trained workers. Currently, the American economy is driving the growth in STEM fields, but public schools are unable to keep up a pipeline of talent to fill the jobs that it creates.