Analyzing the Worsening Teacher Shortage!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this year, I posted about the steps that California was considering to stem its teacher shortage.  In the Teachers College Record, Christopher Holland reviews the teacher shortage issue that is looming for many other states.  He attributes the growing “crisis” to a combination of poor working conditions and past education policies that foster teacher attrition.  He proposes several solutions but laments that many states will be reluctant to fund such programs.  Here is an excerpt:

“The Learning Policy Institute’s report, A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S. projects a rather grim image of teacher shortage crises for every state across the nation (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). National enrollment levels in teacher-education programs have declined by 35% between 2009 and 2014 (691,000 to 451,000) (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). Moreover, a high national rate of teacher attrition (8%) continues to plague American school districts. Compared to nations like Finland and Singapore, the rate of attrition in the U.S. is double the rate of these nations (Heim, 2016; Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). Among those who leave the profession, the vast majority of educators decide to exit voluntarily before they reach retirement. For example, 43% exit as a result of family or personal reasons and 57% cite job dissatisfaction resulting from a lack of administrative support, testing or accountability pressures, and difficult working conditions as the major reasons for leaving (Haynes, 2014; Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016).

This teacher shortage issue is especially evident in California, a state that educates over 10% of America’s K–12 students. Here, attrition and teacher education recruitment rates reflect a problematic trend. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs declined over 70% during the period between the academic years 2001–02 to 2014–15 (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Furthermore, although attrition rates in California (6.1%) are lower than the national average (8%), they are still well above the 4% experienced by top educational systems around the world (Camera, 2016). As a result of these trends, California schools became increasingly reliant on hiring educators with substandard credentialing. During the period 2012–13 to 2015–16, emergency-style provisional and short-term teaching permits increased by over 200% (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). According to the Learning Policy Institute (2017), 55% of California school districts reported that they hired teachers with substandard credentials. Moreover, shortages continue to be worst in STEM, bilingual education, and special education classrooms throughout the state (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Finally, schools with higher rates of minority students and lower income students continue to feel the pains of teacher shortages at disproportionate rates compared to those districts with Caucasian students and higher income students (California Department of Education, 2015).

Besides issuing substandard credentials, state and local officials implemented other ineffective strategies to fill the gaps that have been caused by teacher shortages. These strategies include hiring substitute teachers, assigning teachers outside of their credentialed field, leaving positions vacant, increasing class sizes, and canceling courses (Learning Policy Institute, 2017). Although these policies were originally intended to be temporary solutions for the teacher shortage crisis, they exacerbate larger issues of subpar instruction and diminished student achievement (Learning Policy Institute, 2017).

Three proposed bills currently in the state legislature would maintain grant programs, loan forgiveness programs, and tax credit programs that aim to increase recruitment and retention rates for teachers. Although each piece of proposed legislation considers the financial realities that teachers face, they do little to fix the core issues associated with California’s teacher shortage problems. First, AB 169, introduced in the State Assembly on January 17, 2017, would reauthorize the Golden State Teacher Grant Program to provide up to $20,000 in grant money to teacher education students to complete certification requirements as long as they taught a high needs subject for at least four years after completing a degree or certification (2017). Second, AB 463, introduced in the State Assembly on February 13, 2017, would reauthorize the state’s Assumption Program of Loans for Educators incentive. This would earmark $5 million for a teacher recruitment program that provides high-achieving postsecondary students from disadvantaged backgrounds with the necessary financial resources to complete a degree and teach in rural low-income schools across the state for at least four years (2017). Third, SB 807, or the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017, introduced in the State Senate on February 17, 2017, would provide educators with tax relief through two efforts (2017). First, it would offer credit for money spent on earning teaching credentials. Second, it would allow teachers who remain in the profession for more than five years to be free of paying any state tax on income earned from their profession.

Each of these three bills shares a significant budgetary focus and provides pre-service and full-time educators with major incentives to enter and stay in the classroom. Despite this, they do not address the major reasons behind teacher shortage. As was stated earlier, the vast majority of educators who decide to leave the profession do so voluntarily before retirement (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). Personal life events and employment dissatisfaction overwhelmingly rank as the most cited reasons for leaving teaching early (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016).

Moreover, many educators like Stephen Mucher link high percentages of disgruntled teachers to an undesirable educational system that negatively impacts recruitment efforts (Strauss, 2015). Although not a full empirical investigation, Mucher’s reflection on his efforts to find and recruit pre-service educators highlights connections among college students’ lack of enthusiasm for entering the teaching profession and growing efforts to standardize K–12 curricula, eliminate tenure and seniority, maximize school choice, and further advance efforts to expand high-stakes accountability through standardized assessments (Strauss, 2015). In this respect, state officials should conceptualize the issues of attrition and teacher recruitment as entwined and use innovative solutions in structuring proper interventions that can resolve both of these problems.”

This is “crisis”that will get worse before it gets better. It will also lead policymakers to consider greater use of online learning technology to alleviate the teacher shortages that will plague many public schools.



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