Eight years ago, three national physics organizations jointly launched the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) to help U.S. universities prepare more highly qualified physics teachers and alleviate the nation’s critical physics teacher shortages.
PhysTEC is a partnership among the American Physical Society (APS), the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), and the American Institute of Physics (AIP). Institutions participating in PhysTEC improve their teacher preparation programs by recruiting future teachers, hiring full-time master teachers from local schools to work with pre-service teachers, developing high-quality courses and early teaching experiences, and mentoring program graduates. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and APS fund the project.
Faculty members at PhysTEC institutions said the project has been instrumental in helping them jump-start their teacher preparation programs.
“PhysTEC has helped us place 20 teachers in Arkansas classrooms over the past six years,” said Gay Stewart, a physics professor at the University of Arkansas. “Before the project began, we had graduated one physics teachers in a decade, and now we’re graduating five or more teachers every year.”
PhysTEC began with six universities and has expanded to a total of 14 sites, which are chosen through a peer-reviewed solicitation that considers the applicant’s potential to increase the number of teachers who graduate and develop programs that serve as national models. Evidence of collaboration between physics and education faculty is another important criterion. In 2006, the project received 45 proposals for four available slots.
“The physics community is clearly showing broad interest in teacher preparation,” said Ted Hodapp, director of education and diversity for APS.
“If there were funding for 10 times as many institutions to replicate PhysTEC’s efforts, major progress could be made toward putting highly qualified teachers in every one of our country’s physics classrooms. With today’s highly competitive technical workplace, the need for physics teachers has never been greater.”
PhysTEC institutions now graduate about three times as many certified physics teachers per year as they did before the project’s inception, which represents an average increase of about 30 percent per year. By comparison, data from 10 state certification offices show only about a 3 percent increase per year in physics teacher certifications, despite federal No Child Left Behind legislation requiring schools to hire certified teachers.
“The best thing we can do to help our children succeed in math and science is to invest more in the success of their teachers,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (CA-7th), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, during a recent Capitol Hill hearing. “We cannot expect our teachers to teach what they themselves do not know.”
School officials have confirmed that qualified physics teachers are the most difficult of any science or mathematics professional to hire, according to the American Association of Employment in Education, and AIP reports that the number of high-school students taking physics is increasing by about 1 percent per year, creating an even greater need for qualified teachers.
“PhysTEC is the largest effort in the country focusing on physics teacher education,” said APS President Arthur Bienenstock.
“APS is very pleased to see evidence that these efforts are having a significant impact on this serious problem, which affects not only the physics community but also our nation’s economic future.”