National Report Card FAQ

The National Report Card (NRC) was developed to quantitatively highlight the low numbers of high school physics teachers prepared across the U.S. and to recognize national and state leaders in physics teacher preparation. The NRC provides numbers of graduates from each physics teacher preparation programs and offers comparisons between the total number of physics teachers prepared and the estimated need for new physics teachers by state. The state information also highlights institutions with active physics teacher preparation programs that are helping to meet the need for new physics teachers in the state. A national honor roll lists the top 100 physics teacher educators in the nation. There are many resources available through PhysTEC to help build physics teacher preparation programs toward solving the physics teacher shortage. 

Under Title II of the Higher Education Act, the U.S. Department of Education collects information from states and territories on all teacher preparation programs in the country, and the data collected is publicly accessible on the department’s website. These programs are divided into three categories: Traditional, Alternative Institution of Higher Education (IHE), and Alternative Non-IHE. Most IHE-based certification programs are run by universities, whereas Non-IHE programs are run by a wide variety of nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Because most other sources of data on physics teacher preparation only report on IHE-based programs, the data found on the NRC is from IHE-based programs, unless otherwise noted.

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

All data presented on the NRC was downloaded directly from the U.S. Department of Education’s Title II website. These data were reported by each institution or state to the U.S. Department of Education using the institution or state’s own procedures. We recommend contacting your institution’s office responsible for reporting Title II data if you believe there are any potential inaccuracies. For additional questions about how the NRC made use of these data, please contact PhysTEC Coordinator at phystec@aps.org.