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Filling the STEM teacher pipeline

By February 18, 2014June 13th, 2016No Comments

A significant number of schools and districts each year report serious problems filling their math and science teaching openings. Why is this? What can we do to increase the quantity, quality, and diversity of STEM teacher candidates?

In a 2010 study, researchers Richard M. Ingersoll and David Perda found that, in fact, annual attrition rates are about the same for math and science teachers as they are for teachers in other subject areas. But unlike other content areas, math and science do not have a surplus of new teachers relative to losses. In other words, for math and science teachers, there is a much tighter balance between new supply and total attrition.

Teacher with studentsAt the same time, there is a need to increase the diversity of the teaching force that has the skills to work with the growing minority student population. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that, as of 2011, 48 percent of U.S. public school students are from an ethnic minority, while only 18 percent of teachers are.

To improve the quantity, quality, and diversity within the STEM teacher recruitment pool, let’s consider the four primary sources of new hires in math and science teaching:

  • The ‘‘pipeline’’ of university students who have recently completed a teacher certification program in a school of education and obtained an education/specialization degree and teaching certificate
  • “Career changers”—those entering teaching with non-education STEM degrees and those entering through alternative, midcareer, and nontraditional routes
  • The ‘‘reserve pool’’ of those who completed teacher preparation in prior years but delayed teaching, as well as former teachers who left teaching to later return
  • “Transfers” from other schools—teachers who move from one school to another

In general, for all four groups, recruiting teachers has typically been done through the use of signing and performance incentives, stipends to teachers for certification through alternative routes, stipends or bonuses on top of the regular pay schedule, and scholarships for teachers to pursue advanced course work.

While many recruitment strategies work for a broad range of candidates, some strategies should be differentiated according to the source. For example:

Traditional pipeline candidates

  • Begin recruiting before prospective teachers graduate or do their clinical internships
  • Build strong partnerships with college- or university-based teacher preparation programs
  • Provide prospective teachers with adequate information about districts, schools, and communities to ensure they recognize teaching opportunities and gather adequate information to make well-informed and appropriate job decisions
  • Provide high-quality induction and professional development experiences to ensure successful recruitment and retention outcomes
  • Require evidence of rigorous and substantial content and pedagogical preparation
  • Attend graduate career fairs
  • Stress the opportunity to become culturally aware of different societies

Career/major changers

  • Advertise to government employment assistance agencies
  • Target information to areas with local STEM business closings
  • Advertise to job placement companies and university job placement services
  • Use social networking
  • Disseminate information to the Department of Conservation, Forestry, etc.
  • Collaborate with Troops to Teachers
  • Attend professional, graduate, and military career fairs
  • Reach out to department heads and student groups in STEM majors
  • Develop multiple entry points into teaching for nontraditional math and science teacher candidates

Reserve candidates

  • Provide a convincing and altruistic case for joining the educator workforce
  • Require evidence of strong content background knowledge and expertise
  • Disseminate information to College of Education alumni lists
  • Provide enhanced teacher induction for returning educators to catch them up on the latest priorities and trends


  • Describe positive school culture factors that attract math and science teachers such as student discipline policies, student motivation, and shared teacher leadership
  • Use signing and performance incentives
  • Offer scholarships for teachers to pursue advanced course work
  • Streamline the application process for highly qualified transfer candidates

For all four groups, it’s important to proactively engage recruits by visiting them where they are, instead of waiting for them to come to you. This can be done face-to-face at career fairs and conferences, or virtually through social networking and website/webinar outreach. Proactive recruitment strategies are especially important for recruiting minority candidates. Employers must seek out quality higher education institutions with high proportions of minority candidates and rigorously recruit from them.

Retention and recruitment of math and science teachers go hand-in-hand. If you establish working conditions that math and science teachers desire, and publicize those conditions, your recruitment improves. Furthermore, improving job conditions such as increasing support and resources from the school administration, increasing salaries, reducing student discipline problems, and enhancing faculty input into school decision making, would all contribute to lower rates of turnover and, in turn, reduce recruitment needs.

Do you have other STEM recruiting strategies that have been especially effective?


2012_Kuhn_WEBDr. Matt Kuhn works with districts and schools to improve STEM instruction. He conducts professional development in instructional technology integration, technology leadership, and curricular design and pedagogy in mathematics and science. He is a Google Certified Teacher and a co-author of the first and second editions of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works. Prior to joining McREL, Matt was a secondary science/math teacher and principal.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.

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