A recent study has some interesting things to tell us about the state of biology education in the United States. Biology is often considered a “gateway” to further science education in high schools. It is often required and introduces students to more advanced concepts than elementary or middle school science. It’s also come to dominate hiring and employment practices.
According to the study, which was based on the National Center for Education’s Schools and staffing Surveys from 1987 to 2007, biology teachers take up 44% of the science teaching jobs in the country, more than twice as many as chemistry teachers. That number followed a 50% growth in the 30 years studied. In that same period, women went from occupying 39% to 61% of those positions, more than in any other related field.
However, between 1990 and 2007, the proportions of teachers with significant experience changed. The number of teachers in their 40s with 21 to 25 years of experienced dropped by 20% while the number of teachers in their 50s with 26 or more years of experience dropped by 27%. This is mostly the result of older teachers joining the workforce after other careers.
Those other careers are also something worth investigating. The range of fields that can qualify to teach biology is pretty wide, meaning that some biology teachers aren’t as well suited to teaching the field broadly to high schoolers. Many of the teachers coming from other careers also don’t have the pedagogical training that some of their peers have. The end result is that, while there are more people teaching biology, they aren’t necessarily as good at it as they could be. The researchers behind the study suggest that schools stop setting curriculum based on existing lesson plans and instead find ways to embrace the actual expertise of the teachers, allowing them to better educate and reach their students.