A Look at the High School Biology Teacher Workforce

July 28, 2015

Biology educators occupy nearly half (44 percent) of all high school science teaching assignments -- more than double the percentage of chemistry educators, according to a new study published in BioScience. The biology education workforce increased some 50 percent between 1987 and 2007 due to biology’s “gateway” status among the high school sciences, the study says. The female proportion of the biology workforce also grew over the same period, from 39 to 61 percent. That’s more than in all other science, technology and math fields, according to the study.

At the same time, biology educators were more likely than their colleagues in other fields to teach outside the discipline. The number of biology educators with more than 20 years of teaching experience also dropped by some 20 percent between 1990 and 2007. Lead author Gregory T. Rushton, an associate professor of chemistry at Kennesaw State University, and his co-authors note that this is due in part to increasing numbers of teachers entering the workforce after careers outside education, for whom “the biologist identity may be stronger than that of teacher.”

Rushton and his colleagues propose stricter certification requirements for biology teachers and more targeted professional development. They also propose matching curricula to teachers’ expertise, as opposed to offering “a static, predetermined slate of science courses at each school.” The longitudinal study is based on the National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing surveys from 1987 through 2007.

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