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Numbers Say: The High School Physics Teachers Shortage Will Be Fixed In 130 Years.

According to this report



in 2013 about 40 % of high school students took a physics course.

According to this source


in 2013 there were close to 16,000,000 high school students in the U.S. That would give about 4,000,000 graduates. Forty percent of this number is equal to 1,600,000 students.

The more accurate number is 1,400,000; in 2013 this many high school students were enrolled in a physics course (thank you David Meltzer for finding out this information: see Appendix I).

Let’s use a very conservative estimation.

Let’s assume that each class had 30 students, and one teacher was teaching four classes. That gives us about 11,666 physics teachers.

According to PhysTec coalition



only 1/3 of all high school physics teachers have a degree in physics or physics education.

Which means, high schools need to hire about 7,777 properly prepared high school physics teachers.

 According again to PhysTec coalition, the members of the coalition gradate about 60 teachers per a year - check the “5+ club” (this number has been addressed in the further communication; see Appendix III).


Keeping this pace, we need to wait for about 130 years until every high school in the U.S. will have a highly qualified physics teachers.

Please, note: we only talk here about a high school level, only about physics, and only about 40 % of students!

Adding middle school science teachers and including all students would quadruple the number.

Clearly, whatever PhysTec coalition is doing, will not help us to solve the problems of a physics (or science) teachers shortage.

The problem even deepens if we take into an account the fact that many teachers do not stay in schools for a long time.

The Guardian says,


that too many of teachers leave the profession, and too few qualified professionals go into the profession.

If we assume that our calculations are correct, and The Guardian is right, the focus has to be shifted from teacher preparation to teacher retention and professional development of in-service teachers.

P.S. At this point the natural question to ask is “Why do teachers leave a school”?

In the context of this publishing we should rephrase the question to: “Why do science teachers leave a school?”

What do we do these days when we need to find an answer to a question?

Of course!

We Google it!


And Google says: “Your search did not match any documents”!

What does it mean, if even Google does not have an answer?

It simply means there is no data on this matter; no one publishes on this matter; no one study this matter (I would appreciate to be proved wrong on this issue).

I could have been speculating and offering my own opinions, but why would anyone take my speculations seriously?

That is why I just stop here.

But if anyone would like to share their thoughts, please, feel free to comment!


“Why do science teachers leave a school?”

Appendix I

From David Meltzer 

On the number of high school students taking physics


Susan White and Casey Langer Tesfaye, High School Physics Courses & Enrollments: Results from the 2012_13 Nationwide Survey of High School Physics Teachers (AIP, College Park,
MD, 2014). Available at: https://www.aip.org/statistics/reports/high_school_physics_courses_ enrollments_0

High School Physics Courses & Enrollments | American ... www.aip.org

This report examines enrollments in high school physics during the 2012_13 school year.


Appendix II

From Jane Jackson

Why do teachers leave? Teacher morale has plummeted in recent years, with educators saying that school reform has made them the scapegoat for problems in public education.

According to a Sept. 2016 report by the Learning Policy Institute at Stanford University, most teachers who leave do so because of dissatisfaction __ ranging from physical conditions such as class sizes, facilities, and classroom resources ‹ to unhappiness with administrative practices, such as lack of support, classroom autonomy, or input to decisions ‹ to policy issues, such as the effects of testing and accountability. Assessments & accountability measures are the biggest dissatisfactions.

Reducing attrition by half could virtually eliminate shortages.

Fewer people are entering teacher preparation programs. Enrollments are down 35 percent and graduates dropped by 23 percent between 2009 and 2014.

Download the full report (Sept. 2016) at



From me:

Jane Jackson makes a good point. Still, would be useful to see the ranking (!) of the factors of the teacher dissatisfaction. Also, the reports (one of which is this https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/solving-teacher-shortage) do not go beyond recommendation which have been offered in many previous reports and document. If those recommendations had not worked in the past, why would they suddenly start working this time? 


Appendix III (self-explanatory)

Dear Ms. Plisch,

I appreciate very much your input with the response to my letter.

First, I have to point out that after David Meltzer’s letter I corrected the number of students to 1,4 million graduates, and recalculated the number of years to 130 (based on: 30 students per a class_ 4 classes per a teacher_ 60 new teachers per a year this data show how the estimation was made).

In your response, you provided a large volume of information.

1. You quote:

According to AIP, there were 27,000 high school physics teachers in 2013


* This document does NOT provide information on how the estimation had been made.

But let’s use it.

2. You write:

According to PhysTec coalition


only 1/3 of all high school physics teachers have a degree in physics or physics education.

While this is the case (from AIP reports), teachers with a degree in physics or physics education are more likely to teach a larger number of physics classes. According to the US. Department of Education, about 47% of all high school classes are led by a teacher with a physics or physics education degree.


* Your comment does not affect the calculation: (27,000/3)*2 = 18,000

3. Then you write:

Which means, high schools need to hire about 35,000 properly prepared high school physics teachers.

The total number of new physics teachers hired per year is 1400, of which about 600 have a major or minor in physics or physics education. This indicates that 800 additional well-prepared physics teachers per year would address the national shortage, since over time the well-prepared new teachers would replace teachers who retire.


* No matter of other factors_ according to AIP 18,000 ( = 2/3 of 27,000) high school physics teachers do not have a degree in physics or physics education. Manipulating with any other numbers does not change this fact. Any discrepancy only means that different sources of information provide to us incoherent numbers. Your example addresses new or retired teachers, there might be some interesting dynamics, some interesting formula, but if we have today 18,000 teachers who do not have a degree in physics or physics education, we need at least 18,000 teachers who will have a degree in physics or physics education.

4. You write:

The 300+ member institutions of the PhysTEC Coalition, which include many more institutions than those who received The 5+ Club award, prepare over half of the highly qualified physics teachers in the U.S. according to Title II data.


* This statement may be related to the actual numbers of actual graduates, a.k.a. prepared physics teachers, but the relationship is not clear. I was also not able to find this particular number using the link you provided

(https://title2.ed.gov/Public/Home.aspx). However, previously you provided a number of “600 have a major or minor in physics or physics education”. Unfortunately, I do not know the source of this number. But let’s assume it is correct. In that case (a) 60 graduates a year is a drop in a bucket_ (b) 18000 / 600 = 30 years.

5. You write:

This conclusion is unnecessarily pessimistic.

In science, we should not treat numbers as pessimistic or optimists (those terms reflect human emotions regarding a fact).

In science numbers are correct, or wrong, which depends on the quality of the collected information and the logic applied to the analysis of the information.

6. You write:

If the ~750 physics departments in the U.S. each recruited and educated ~1 more physics teacher per year, it would take ~30 years (the maximum number of years a teacher will typically spend in the classroom) to fully replace the current physics teacher workforce with new hires, all of whom are well-prepared to teach physics. As a rough check these numbers, 800 teachers * 30 years = 24,000 teachers, which approximately equals the current total number of physics teachers (27,000).

* I agree that 30 years is much better than 600, or even 130.

I agree that “if …” etc.

But that is a big IF. According to the available data this has not been happening – for decades. Why would it start happening now?

I do not think we (scientists, policy makers, managers) should bas planning of our actions on a wishful thinking (“What if!”), we should base our planning on the observed trends described via measurable indicators (e.g. the year-to-year number of the 5+ club graduates).

Currently, if we use the collection of available data (which itself is open to a critic), and if we manipulate with the data, the best-case scenario gives us at least 30 years. That does not include the fact that teachers leave a school.

And again, – if – we want that ALL high school students would be taking physics, and – if – we want them taking physics during two years of study_ we would have to largely increase the number of years (keeping all other parameters the same). And still, this does not address middle school level.

From my point of view, even the best-case scenario number (30 years) does not reflect the urgency of the situation in STEM related fields reflected in many reports (including cited by you).

Do you think we should tell business and industry leaders "you need to wait for at least 30 more years before our schools begin producing enough STEM prepared/oriented graduates"?

I think, this discussion will be useful if we try to look for ideas and approaches which have not been a part of the previous discussion.

Sincerely yours,



Appendix IV


Been reading the threads and wanted to add my two cents:

A little ranting

As a teacher of physics that is teaching high school as a second career I find most of the studies on what is ailing the profession and causing burnout peculiar at best. Most of the attention is focused on compensation – but after basic needs are met compensation is much lower on the priority list. Autonomy and collegiality rank among my top priorities. Nothing quite as lonely as teaching. You stand in front of students all day but don’t have an interaction with peers. One seldom has a real exchange of ideas about the stuff you teach.


Administration is an issue. I am evaluated each year by a person with a degree in organizational management, who doesn’t know a thing about my subject. They walk into my classroom with a checklist of “activities” and teaching “techniques” they are looking for and if they didn’t see all of them in the 20minute window they afforded me I am marked down.


Administration does not support the teacher – they advocate for the student, the parents and the community. Nobody represents the teacher. (One may want to argue that teachers’ unions do this but they are part of the problem_ more concerned about protecting the status quo and their collective bargaining position than improving the classroom.) The teacher is to blame if little Johnny is flunking. It can’t be the fact that Johnny has done a lick of homework and doesn’t come in to ask for help. Administration makes big statements about professional development, but if you take away from class time you are penalized and are not compensated for the basic expenses.


So the teacher is pretty much on their own. Especially if you teach in a small school where you are THE science department. This is where organizations like AAPT can play a big role. But it is very expensive…dues, conference fees, travel, etc.


Rant is now over…So this isn’t a problem that we need to throw more money at. We need to fundamentally change how we allow our teachers of physics to operate their classrooms and raise the expectations on the students and parents, holding them responsible for Johnny’s grades.


I moved from a career in the Air Force to a mediumsized public school to a small independent school. Each transition cost me some pay. The move to the independent school gained me autonomy in my classroom and the ability to work with my administration to improve science education at the school. I get paid less but I have smaller classrooms, more control over what I teach and how I teach it, and when I pick up the phone to talk to a parent little Johnny comes back to class with a new attitude.

So I guess a lot of my observations echo the study.


P.S. I haven’t been to an AAPT national meeting for a few years now because my administration doesn’t support it…I really miss you all.



Science & Math Teacher, College Counselor


I would like to stress two excellent points:

1. Nothing quite as lonely as teaching.

2. Nobody represents the teacher.

3. We need to fundamentally change how we allow our teachers of physics to operate their classrooms and raise the expectations on the students and parents, holding them responsible for Johnny’s grades.

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