all, schools’ observed science staffing and materials reflect both financial realities and choices made by schools. However, decisions regarding school funding adequacy and equity have been based largely on reading and mathematics performance. The new information provided by science assessments could change the calculus of school finance in many states. Schools already severely constrained fiscally when they were not placing a heavy emphasis on science instruction could become considerably more constrained if they were compelled to shift resources toward science education.

Exacerbating Existing Inequities in School Finance

Beyond simply highlighting the present level of inequities in school finance, new science assessments—especially if incorporated into an accountability system—could exacerbate these inequities through effects on the labor market for science teachers. Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor (2004) and Figlio and Rueben (2001) argue that teachers are responsive to test-based or fiscal accountability systems; also, schools serving lower income or minority students are most likely to have a difficult time retaining high-quality teachers. Therefore, schools with underserved populations—already affected by financing inequities—are likely to be further affected by a disproportionate flight of high-quality teachers.

The rationale behind this argument stems from economic theory. The increased attention paid to science education is likely to increase the demand for qualified science teachers—a tendency reinforced by the “highly qualified teacher” provision of NCLB. At the same time, research has demonstrated that increased accountability pressures decrease the number of teachers—in this case, science teachers—willing to work at any given salary. The result of these two forces is that the market-clearing salary for a science teacher at the current level of quality would necessarily increase as a result of increased accountability pressures. In the absence of salary increases, the consequence of these changes in market forces would be an average lowering of science teacher quality.

The burden of this reduced average level of teacher quality is likely to be borne primarily, if not exclusively, by schools and districts serving minority and economically disadvantaged students. Teachers in schools serving more advantaged populations could be expected to face lower accountability pressure, and these teachers would be less likely to leave science teaching as a result of new science assessments. Hence, the predicted outflow of quality science teachers should be lower in more advantaged schools and districts. Moreover, if these schools are more likely to hire the highly qualified science teachers leaving the less advantaged schools (Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor, 2002), they are also more likely to have provided significant science education to their students prior to the assessment system. Advantaged schools and districts would therefore be expected to experience a smaller increase in the demand for improvement in science education as a result of new assessments. These schools also could be predicted to face



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement