We estimated the number of physics teachers required to educate the current population of high school physics students in the US, and together with teacher attrition numbers, this allowed us to estimate the need for new teachers. The estimated need for new physics teachers is intended to highlight the inadequate numbers of new physics teachers actually prepared across the nation. Note the estimate of current need is far less than the number of teachers that would be needed if all high school students took physics, which is a long-term goal of many educators.
The total population of high school physics teachers was estimated based on the number of physics classes taught in each school, with data available from the Civil Rights Data Collection. The estimated total physics teacher population in each state was multiplied by an annual attrition rate of 7% to get the estimated number of new physics teachers needed in that state. For more detail on calculations, assumptions, and sources of data, see the Technical Information page.
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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 grades. 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.
A fourth way would be to count both majors and minors (i.e. degrees) in physics or physics education. Title II does not collect data on minors. However, a nationwide survey by the American Institute for 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, to estimate numbers of physics-related degrees, one could add 28% to the numbers of majors.