K-12 Teacher Shortage Grows

Teacher shortages are not a new concern and the subject areas with the biggest gaps remain fairly consistent. Still, as the 2017-2018 school year was beginning, CNN had an extensive report on the challenge. Among the findings:

The Learning Policy Institute estimated that if trends continue, there could be a nationwide shortfall of 112,000 teachers by 2018.

Public schools in 48 states and the District of Columbia report teacher shortages in math for the 2017-18 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Forty-six states report shortages in special education, 43 in science and 41 in foreign languages.

Nationwide, teacher education enrollments dropped 35% between 2009 and 2014, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the Learning Policy Institute.

A survey at UCLA found that freshmen’s interest in teaching as a career has steadily declined over the past decade.

Dan Goldhaber, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Education Data and Research, who studies educational trends at the University of Washington, sees two main reasons.

Math and science teachers aren’t paid enough. Salaries for U.S. secondary school teachers have largely remained the same over the past two decades, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

And students in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) can make more in other professions than they would teaching.

Teaching in the U.S. is too demanding. About 8% of teachers leave teaching each year, with two-thirds quitting before retirement, according to the Learning Policy Institute. This is double the percentage of teachers leaving the profession in countries like Singapore and Finland.

As far as potential solutions:

  • Help students be more strategic about their teaching opportunities. When students enter teaching certification programs, let them know where the jobs are. In many parts of the country, they’ll have an easier time finding jobs to teach math or science than English.
  • Partner school districts with local college and university programs. Though the teacher shortage is rooted partly in subject areas, it’s also a matter of location. Schools in low-income areas struggle more to fill positions. “It is the kids that are oftentimes most at risk that are the ones who are likely to suffer the most,” Goldhaber said.

One way to fix that would be to pull in students from local higher-ed programs to help teach in those areas. Many may stick around for a full-time job after graduation.

  • Make teacher certification national instead of state by state.Prospective teachers must pass an exam specific to the state they want to work in. But if a teacher wants to move from, say, Pennsylvania to California, they can’t immediately apply for jobs there. By having a national certification exam, teachers would have more mobility to go where they’re needed.

Teacher Shortage Concerns at Forefront of Interim Study Group

Portrait of students taking notes while their classmate is raising his hand

A popular phrase in Indiana these days is the term “teacher shortage.” So much so that the Indiana General Assembly leadership asked the Education Interim Study Committee to schedule an extra meeting on Oct.19 to discuss this issue.

This marathon committee hearing lasted close to nine hours and featured testimony from many people (both from Indiana and around the country). Data is often conflicting – while there may be fewer potential teachers applying to education schools, it seems to be that there are pockets of shortages (in STEM, special education and secondary schools). (In fact, a Michael Hicks/Ball State study released last Wednesday said there was actually a surplus of teachers, except for these specialty areas). Emphasis was also provided – with bipartisan support – on the importance of mentoring, as well as flexibility of teacher pay and grant incentive programs in shortage areas.

The study committee proposed 20 recommendations to be put into its final report of the year – of which 17 were agreed upon. But this does not mean that they might turn into actual legislation during the 2016 General Assembly session. Many of these recommendations dealt with further study, but the biggest recommendation called for new money to be used to increase salaries for teachers and other educators for the first 10 years of their career. However, the 2016 legislative session is not a budget session, which essentially handcuffs the ability to propose any new funding.

All in all, while we do not expect the 2016 legislative session to be dubbed another “education session,” we should anticipate some comprehensive bills when it comes to testing, accountability and teacher shortage solutions. The Indiana Chamber is immersed in these policy issues and is in constant contact with policymakers to ensure that we are part of those discussions.