APS News

Task Force Calls Physics Teacher Preparation Massively Inadequate

By Gabriel Popkin

The national Task Force on Teacher Education in Physics released a set of findings and recommendations on February 13 at the 2010 Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PTEC) Conference. The release, which summarizes more than two years of research on physics teacher preparation programs at American universities, is the synopsis of a report the task force plans to publish later this year.

The task force was jointly sponsored by the APS, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Institute of Physics, and is composed of physics and education faculty, university administrators, and high school teachers who have been closely involved in national physics education efforts. Its charge was to survey the US physics teacher preparation scene, identify best practices for increasing the number of qualified physics teachers, and establish research, funding, and policy priorities for improving the situation.

The task force’s chief finding was that “Except for a handful of isolated pockets of excellence, the national system of preparing physics teachers is largely inefficient, mostly incoherent, and massively unprepared to deal with the current and future needs of the nation’s students.” The authors identified a number of areas in which they felt improvement was needed, including collaboration between physics and education departments, physics-specific pedagogical preparation of teachers, induction and mentoring support for new physics teachers, and professional development for physics teachers coming from other disciplines.

The authors also drew a connection between the state of US physics teacher education and the country’s challenges in the science and engineering labor market, stating that “An effective precollege physics education is indispensable in preparing U.S. students for global competition.” To address these challenges, the authors wrote that “Physics departments, schools of education, university administrators, school systems, state agencies, the federal government, as well as business and foundations, have indispensable collaborative roles to play so that every high school student has the opportunity to learn physics with a qualified teacher.”

Stamatis Vokos, professor of physics at Seattle Pacific University and the task force’s chair, said that while the situation is grim, there is potential for improvement. “We hope that our report will serve as a wake-up call for universities, foundations, and government agencies around the country. The problem is very serious, and any significant progress will require a focused and coordinated effort from all corners.”

The task force plans to distribute its full report to every physics department and education school in the country.
Gray arrow  Task Force Information and Report Synopsis

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Editor: Alan Chodos