Why are there different ways to count the numbers of physics teachers prepared, and what are they?
States and institutions differ widely in how they prepare physics teachers and in the requirements for certification. For example, some states require an undergraduate degree in physics while others require a certain number of credit hours in physics. Preparation programs may meet state requirements in different ways, even within the same state. Consequently, there is no single, standardized way to count the numbers of physics teachers prepared. The Title II data include three different ways to count teachers. Each of these methods only counts students who completed a teacher education program and specifies the “physics” component in a different way:
- Physics-related major: Students who completed a teacher preparation program and graduated with a major in physics, astronomy or astrophysics, or physics education. These numbers are reported by each institution to the US Department of Education per Title II.
- Subject area of program: Students who completed a teacher preparation program that was explicitly designed to prepare physics teachers. These numbers are reported by each institution to the US Department of Education per Title II.
- Area of certification: Students who completed a teacher preparation program and were certified by their institution’s state to teach physics, i.e. the certification area contains the word "physics." These numbers are reported by each state to the US Department of Education per Title II.
There is significant overlap among these counting methods, and it is not appropriate to add numbers in different categories since this likely will result in counting individuals more than once.
For the sake of consistency, the NRC focuses on using only the “physics-related major” method for most of its analysis, including the calculation of state and national needs being met. The “major” designation, while not capturing every prepared physics teacher, is relatively clear and consistent across states and institutions.
However, it is important to capture these other ways of counting prepared physics teachers. On NRC pages that display institutional, state, or national data, one chart presents a comparison of the numbers calculated in these different ways.
Available research suggests that effective teachers of secondary physics need both physics content (at least a minor degree) and sufficient training in physics-specific pedagogy. Title II does not collect data on minors nor on training in physics pedagogy.
However, a nationwide survey by the American Institute of Physics found that for every 100 physics teachers with a major in physics or physics education, another 28 had a minor in one of those subjects. Therefore, one could add 28% to the numbers of majors to generate another valid estimate of physics teachers with physics-related degrees. The parts of the NRC that report Title II data do not include this addition to maintain clarity on the origin of the data.