A new minor in science education is in the approval process with PASSHE in Harrisburg to be offered at WCU in the Fall 2008 semester with the intention of reinforcing elementary education majors’ degrees. Versatility is an ever-increasing value for teachers emerging from college looking for employment in the world of No Child Left Behind and the possibility of facing new systems based on merit pay. The minor’s focus on science will give elementary education majors the qualifications needed to attain appropriate certification to teach science on the K-8 level.
Steve Good of WCU’s College of Arts and Sciences masterminded the pending minor in collaboration with the education department.
“Elementary education used to be defined as K-8,” Good said. “No Child Left Behind has defined elementary education requiring a highly qualified teacher for K-6.”
Since No Child Left Behind’s initiation, many already-working teachers had to reinforce their credentials to keep their jobs. Good pointed out that science and special education have particular teacher shortages; therefore, a minor such as a science education could prove to be an extremely helpful booster to a college graduate’s education degree and certification.
“There isn’t a lot to like about No Child Left Behind. Our goal is to put a highly qualified teacher in front of every classroom,” Good said.
The job market for teachers is entering a phase of national change. With baby-boomer teachers retiring, an estimated 2.8 million new teachers will be needed by 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Education. At the same time however, 30 per cent of new teachers leave the profession entirely after just three years on the job.
These numbers can be taken into account along with almost 30 per cent of middle school or high school classes being taught by teachers who did not major in the subject they are teaching, according to University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Ingersoll and reported by Time magazine.
WCU’s minor in science education, if approved, could begin to combat these numbers by placing higher qualified teachers into place and meeting the requirements of No Child Left Behind, giving WCU graduates a distinct advantage in the job market and hiring processes of elementary and middle schools.
Good described the “chain of blame” in education that takes a cyclical effect on teachers. When students enter college with a weak background in a subject such as math or science the professors ask of themselves, “What are those high school teachers doing?” as Good puts it. The high school teachers ask the same of the middle school teachers and they, in turn, ask the same of the elementary school teachers.
“The elementary teachers don’t know who to blame,” Good said. “Some say the parents but that is a dangerous place to go for a teacher.” The elementary teachers could perhaps blame their college professors in actuality, he explained. The job of college professors training teachers is to prepare and qualify their students for the jobs that await them, hopefully putting an end to the “chain of blame.”
The importance of qualified teachers goes beyond the classroom and job market as well. By increasing the quality of education in a field such as science, the job market for science-based companies can improve on the state level. According to Good, by bettering science education the workforce also ultimately improves, bringing better science-based companies and jobs to the state.
The application for WCU’s new minor that is currently pending approval in Harrisburg states that “Employment in elementary education is highly competitive, and graduates with training in science would make applicants more competitive for teaching positions.”
If approved, the new minor, which has no prerequisites for students, could greatly improve the quality of an elementary education major’s degree. As the teaching field and job market change, the most versatile and qualified teachers will be the most desirable for hiring schools.
Shane Madden is a fourth-year student majoring in history with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.