A few teachers will be retiring this year at Meridian Senior High School, writes Brian Reed in The Meridian Daily, the student newspaper at the school in Macon, Illinois.
Although the district has “received at least one application for each of the other positions currently open, they have not received applications for math.” Math teacher Jeannine Rude will retire at the end of this school year, and district officials at the school, which serves about 263 students, have been looking for a high school math teacher to replace her since November.
“It may not be because of the view of Meridian by math teachers but the lack of teachers themselves,” he continues, citing both stats from the Learning Policy Institute and anecdotal evidence from the University of Illinois, Springfield.
“Many teacher education programs at universities throughout the state have seen a drop in enrollment in recent years; math is definitely one of the harder-to-fill areas,” he quotes Meghan Kessler, an assistant professor at UIS, as saying.
One study in 2012, conducted by the Center for Educational Policy Analysis at Stanford University found that using alternative certification pathways for teachers who aren’t necessarily strong in a desired content area, such as math, can be helpful.
For well over a decade school districts across the United States have struggled to recruit and retain effective mathematics teachers. In response to the need for qualified math teachers and the difficulty of directly recruiting individuals who have already completed the math content required for qualification, some districts, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and New York City, have developed alternative certification programs with a math immersion component to recruit otherwise well-qualified candidates who do not have undergraduate majors in math.
The study concluded that teachers who follow one of the alternative pathways to math teaching generally have higher academic credentials than their math-major peers, but their students showed lower gains in their math performance over several years of measurement if alternative-certification teachers were used than if math-major or Teach For America peers were used. In some cases, though, the differences in student achievement, particularly in middle school math, were not statistically significant.
Because about half the math teachers in New York City’s public schools got to their jobs through alternative certification pathways, it’s worth considering whether this can be an effective answer to the teacher shortages in math that have been in the headlines since at least the beginning of this century.