Science Teaching as a Profession. Why it isn’t. How it could be.
By Sheila Tobias and Anne Baffert
Publisher: Research Corporation for Science Advancement
Expected Publication Date: April 15, 2009
Belatedly, it seems to many teachers, the nation’s thinking about efforts to improve education, K-12 has returned the
classroom teacher to center stage. Aer some decades of innovation in the use of computers, the Web, and other
pedagogically rich devices, researchers on all sides of the political spectrum are converging on what is really an old-fashioned view: student achievement depends mainly on the quality of instruction as created and conveyed by the teacher in the classroom.
That’s the good news for teachers.
But instead of gaining more autonomy and more control over what he or she teaches, the classroom teacher is becoming a prisoner of high-stakes testing. That’s the gist of the revolution launched in 2002 by No Child Left Behind (NCLB): Teacher “quality” is deemed directly responsible for pupils’ achievement.
And the obverse: where pupils’ gains are sub par, it is the teachers’ fault.
In the authors’ wide-ranging inquiry into the state of secondary science teaching, they found the satisfactions of the profession diminishing with the loss of autonomy and control. The science teachers they interviewed and heard from on the project’s interactive website fear that measuring teacher performance by pupils’ gains could be just the first step in the degrading of the profession altogether.
A central element in any profession are “barriers to entry,” the unique pre-entry training and certification requirements that differentiates the professional specialist from others. Since the late 19th century, those entering the teaching profession (or if not at entry then very soon thereafter) have had to be state certified, which usually involves both a state-approved university-level education major or minor, and meeting state certification requirements. The 21st century, however, is witnessing some serious challenges to that model.
In one such proposal to improve student achievement, a Brookings Institution report would eliminate both specific
university training and state certification in favor of a teacher meeting performance criteria on the job. In state after state, teacher tenure is being scrapped for alternate contracts. Elsewhere teacher evaluation is being removed from collective bargaining in favor of “selective retention” of teachers whose pupils achieve grade level proficiencies.
In a pre-election debate on the subject, education consultants. Lisa Graham Kagan, and Linda Darling-Hammond, working for candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, respectively, agreed on the centrality of “teacher effectiveness” in pupils’ academic achievement.
What should we make of proposals like these? How serious a threat is “selective retention” to teaching as a profession? And where does secondary science teaching fit in to the mix?
On the one hand, it has been the nation’s math-science “scorecard” in comparison with other countries that has fueled this decade’s concern with educational reform. On the other, science teachers themselves have found fault with some of their
training in pedagogy (pre-service), and most especially with standard professional development (in-service).
Science teaching as a profession was already under siege when this new century began. Mostly absent from school and school district leadership, secondary science teachers and in particular science chairs, have looked on helplessly as the ground shifts beneath them. Spokesmen (and women) for science education have been largely scientists. This is not entirely inappropriate. After all, science is also a profession needing constant repopulation. Nor can we do without the science education research community. But science teachers have a unique expertise.
The authors’ proposition is simple but revolutionary: Until and unless science teachers are successfully recruited into leadership at the school, the district, the state, and the national levels, it is doubtful the nation will succeed in increasing student achievement because it will have failed to meet and satisfy teachers’ needs.
Ordering the Science Teaching as a Profession Book
The expected publication date is April 15, 2009. Science
Teaching as a Profession will be available online as a free
PDF download and later as a printed book. The hard copy book will be distributed by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. The free PDF will be available at: http://rescorp.org
About the Authors
Sheila Tobias is an author of books intended to demystify mathematics and science for students, teachers, and policy
makers. Anne Baffert is a chemistry teacher and chair of science at Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson, Arizona. She has been a high school science teacher for 17 years.
About the Project Sponsor
Research Corporation for Science Advancement, America’s firrst foundation dedicated solely to science, was founded in 1912. It is located in Tucson Arizona.