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Attracting PhDs to K-12 Education: A Demonstration Program for Science, Mathematics, and Technology
The Phase I committee investigated the career ambitions of recent and prospective PhDs in the physical sciences, life sciences, and mathematics, and their interest in taking positions in secondary science, mathematics, and technology education under a variety of hypothetical conditions. Through focus groups and a national survey of more than 700 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, the committee asked respondents how teacher preparation programs, work conditions, and compensation packages could be modified to attract them to careers in secondary and primary school education.
Respondents to the survey had typically considered at least four different options in contemplating their careers; 36 percent of them said they had considered secondary school teaching or other secondary education positions. This number is significant, because, according to a special tabulation of data from the 1997 Survey of Earned Doctorates that was conducted for the Phase I report, only 0.8 percent of all PhDs currently work in K-12 educational institutions (NRC, 2000a).1
The range of positions for which the survey respondents expressed interest included not only becoming a science or mathematics teacher, but also becoming a science or mathematics specialist for a school district, in working in a university- or industry-based science educational partnership, or in serving as a science specialist in a science resource center. Some respondents also expressed interest in working on curriculum development or with education programs of a science museum, environmental science center, or similar type of institutions.
A key question that arose in the Phase I committee’s work was why less than 1 percent of PhDs are currently working in K-12 educational institutions given that 36 percent of recent PhDs have considered secondary teaching? One answer is that there are many negative perceptions about K-12 teaching that work against entering this career. Those negative perceptions include:
a lack of status and respect for teachers,
Respondents who were still in graduate school, female, or U.S. citizens were more likely to say they had considered careers in secondary education than respondents who were postdoctoral fellows, male or non-U.S. citizens. Respondents in chemistry, with strong career options in industry, were less likely than respondents in the biological sciences, physics, and mathematics to consider secondary teaching positions.