Many states are facing a problem this new school year; they do not have enough teachers to teach in the public schools. School boards nationwide and particularly in California, Texas, Arizona, Indiana, Wisconsin, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Kansas, and Oklahoma among other states are facing recruitment problems this August 2015. Just weeks and even days before the start of the school year, these states did not have enough teachers for their schools and the number of students they have to teach. Some states are taking desperate measures to fill their classrooms and provide their children with teachers, filling teaching positions with those that are not certified teachers or have had any education training or classroom experience. Still, there are no long-term plans to solve this growing crisis.
Many factors are affecting the nationwide shortage, decreased enrollment in university education programs, new rules about tenure, pay decreases, tougher laws on teachers, among other deterrents. The teaching subject areas affected the most are “mathematics, science, foreign languages, bilingual education,” and special education. Rural schools also face a difficulty-hiring teachers because applicants are not interested in moving to such remote areas. At-risk inner city schools are the other area suffering the most from shortages because teachers do not want to work there either.
A retired teacher, who taught for 40 years Judy Levy Podes recently wrote an article in Quora entitled, “What’s Behind the U.S. Teacher Shortage?” She responded in her conclusion to her own question, “So why is there a teacher shortage? No money, no respect, inappropriate evaluations and expectations, and the availability of many more options now for women.” Job dissatisfaction has been a major reason for many teachers to leave the profession before retirement age.
The shortage is because of according the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss, “a combination of under-resourced schools, the loss of job protections, unfair teacher evaluation methods, an increase in the amount of mandated standardized testing and the loss of professional autonomy.” Some just look to jobs in states with better wages, benefits and conditions, leaving shortages in the states they are leaving, Oklahoma and Indiana are seeing the most teachers fleeing their states.
The National Center for Education Statistics however, claims that there are not less teachers for students than previously it is the distribution and location of the teachers, they are just not in the states, areas and teaching the subject areas needed the most. There are however, drops in enrollments education programs in the states that need teachers the most, particularly Texas, New York, and California, the states with the biggest most diverse populations.
The U.S. Department of Education determined that the Great Recession caused layoffs and government-spending cuts directly affected a drop in enrollment of about 30 percent nationwide in the years after the recession’s start. Other factors however, have deterred students from pursuing a career in teaching as Education Week notes including, “poor teacher working conditions, such as low salaries and test-driven school cultures.” Despite the drop in enrollment, New York still has more teachers than they need, and in most locations, there are more than enough teachers in the areas of early childhood education, English and the humanities.
Combined with teachers leaving the profession for better paying jobs or retiring is leaving a void in some states and locales. Where teachers went to university and live is not always the same place in the country that needs teachers and they would rather not move for personal reasons and because “Teaching licenses are not always easily portable.” Each state has different licensing requirements, which is a hindrance for many teachers who might want to make the leap to an area or state that needs teachers.
Another reason for the teacher shortage in the districts that need it most; inner cities and rural areas are less people are applying for Teach For America, the program that places “recent college graduates” in “disadvantaged classrooms.” TFA only received 44,000 applications for this academic year down over 6,000 applications. There has been a steady decline in the past few years. Still TFA accepts the same percentage of applicants only 15 percent of them, leading to only 4,100 new recruits, shortening the teacher pool in the areas that already have shortages. The program is controversial for many reasons, limited classroom training, and feeder for charter schools. The program however, commits its graduate to two years of teaching.
After the recession, states are seeing the need for new teachers, but there are not enough to fill the demand. Some areas facing shortages are trying enticements, likeNevada’s hiring bonus of $5,000. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a bill, SB511 providing the monetary incentive to teachers willing to come teach at inner city schools. Some have tried large-scale “public relations campaigns” and have managed to meet their needed quota of teachers.
Other states like Kansas, California and Oklahoma have taken a different route, allowing unlicensed teachers to work or provide emergency licensure to those possessing a university degree in a general or teachable subject. That is the route that many desperate states and school districts are taking; hiring university graduates with little or no classroom and education training and placing them in classrooms.
Kansas is facing recruitment problems in all teaching subjects because this past year Republican Gov. Sam Brownback cut $44 million for education spending, and cut teacher job protection, Kansas teachers face some of the lowest pay levels in the nation. Tim Hallacy, superintendent of Silver Lake Schools explained to the Huffington Post why the there is so many shortages, “I find it increasingly difficult to convince young people that education is a profession worth considering, and I have some veterans who think about leaving. In the next three years I think we’ll have maybe the worst teacher shortage in the country — I think most of that is self-inflicted.”
In Kansas, the State Board of Education created “innovative districts” in order “to hire unlicensed teachers” to fill their teacher shortage needs. The districts are in “McPherson, Concordia, Hugoton, Marysville, Blue Valley and Kansas City.” A teaching certificate used to be required in all of Kansas to teach in middle schools and high school. Allowing unlicensed teachers still includes some requirements to teach including, “approval by the local school board, background check,” and they will have to “receive a specialized teaching certificate.”
Three years ago, the school board created the Coalition of Innovative School Districts to fill the teacher void, and last year the board made concessions to teach “science, technology, math and engineering.” The difference this year is that it was expanded and now widespread among those five school districts encompassing all teaching areas. Although the measure closely passed it faced opposition from parents and other teachers with the head of the teacher’s union saying, “untrained teachers aren’t good for students.”
In California to fill the teacher shortages, teaching credentials were granted for internships. “Candidates” were allowed to teach full-time while earning their credentials in part-time programs. Additionally, “non-credential staff members” were granted, “emergency temporary permits” to allow them to fill full-time teaching posts. In the past couple of years, there has been a hiring surge in California since 2012, when Gov. Jerry Brown added tax measures to increase funding for education.
Still, there have not been enough credentialed teachers graduated to fill the needed placements, and the alternative credentials and permits are increasingly being used as a short-term solution for the shortage. The dean of the school of education at Sonoma State University Carlos Ayala told the New York Times, “There are not enough people who will look at teacher education or being a teacher as a job that they want to pursue.”
Those are the lucky states, they were able find at least university educated alternatives to teach and fill the open positions, some states and school districtswere still left without anybody to fill the slots, some opting for substitute teachers many with a university degree or a school staffer. In New Mexico’s Rio Rancho School District they are using substitute teachers. In Arizona as of Aug. 24 there were still 1,000 unfilled positions. Nevada is facing terrible shortages, Clarke County still needs 2,600 teachers.
Oklahoma has major shortages problems, because teachers are going to other states particularly Texas for higher paying posts with retirement packages, and to meet the need for bilingual educators school districts have been recruiting in Puerto Rico and even as far as Spain. While California is finding some emergency solutions to their shortage problems, it is especially bad in the North and San Francisco area, at times they are getting so bad that districts are using support staff to fill the void.
To solve their problems in Oklahoma, the State Board of Education provided on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015 credentials to people with undergraduate degrees, but no education training and not necessarily teaching in the subject they received their degrees in. The board provided emergency certifications to 503 people to fill their required teaching positions. The list was made public, with diverse degrees these new teachers are far from experts in the areas they will teach. Although they are meant to fill positions across the state’s school districts, the majority are concentrated in Oklahoma City.
El Reno district superintendent Craig McVay told the press, “It’s absolutely not ideal. The message that it’s sending is we’re in crisis mode and if you are a parent, you should be worried. They all are making the best of a really bad crisis situation. You’re talking about a shortage of a thousand teachers. That’s a lot of teachers. And that’s a lot of classrooms that may not get a qualified person in there.”
The 503 certifications is not the total for the year, in fact 700 emergency certifications were granted, and the state still needs to fill 1,000 teaching positions. Oklahoma Superintendent Joy Hoffmeister explained to News 9, “This new round of emergency certified teachers does not count in the number we talked about earlier, as we’ve seen some news come out recently that we’re still at 1000 teachers short.”
All the solutions states have decided on this past August have been short-terms ones meant to get through the school year. None of the states with major teacher shortages have long-term plans with how to deal with the problems. One thing is for certain better pay, benefits, job security, more relaxed standards reviewing teachers, and respect for the profession is necessary. As NPR Correspondent Eric Westerveltreported, “Common Core and its battles, high-stakes testing, the erosion of tenure, and the evaluation of teachers by test scores, have all contributed to the crisis.”
State governments need to find solutions to these issues and then they will be able to recruit more teachers and appeal to students to enroll in education programs and teach in their states. The state governments have to make education, and spending on education a priority. If they continue to ignore the problems or provide band-aids, the situation will only get worst. In the end it is the students, the children, the next generation that is suffering, and the country will pay the price in the future, if the leaders of tomorrow are not prepared for the tasks that lie ahead.