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The upcoming teacher crisis

Sean // July 13th 2010 // 

I am well aware this isn’t the first time an education commentator has foretold the imminent teacher shortage. It may not even be the first time this month but it bears repeating. More importantly, we’re going to systematically examine the upcoming teacher crisis here because politicians and administrators are behaving as if good teachers are as expendable as the pink slips they’ve been placing on their desks.

The leading factors to blame for the coming shortage are: the teacher shortage we are experiencing today, the proportion of teachers nearing retirement, massive teacher layoffs, and the attrition rate of new teachers.

Current Shortage: Today, geographic and/or subject area shortages in every state have led the US Dept of Education to offer grants and loan forgiveness as incentives to encourage service in those areas. The map below indicates that all 50 states are in need of teachers statewide for one or more subject areas while five states desperately need teachers of any subject in some cities and counties.

Retirement: In April 2008, a report from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future predicted that we could lose over half of the nation’s teachers within 10 years. Of course, we should expect some bias from an organization with that name. If there’s even a morsel of truth to their research, though, it is a demographic threat that will compound the other trends listed here. The map below summarizes the depth of this phenomenon.

Layoffs: Budgetary pressures unprecedented in our nation’s history have led to significant layoffs of untenured teachers across the country. Budget cuts have to come from somewhere but drastic teacher reductions promise repercussions much more severe than suboptimal roads and sewers. The districts that have laid off the most teachers will find the next generation of teachers grossly underprepared to take over when the earlier generation steps away.

An apt metaphor is a baseball team cutting costs by eliminating its farm system. Such a measure may allow it to turn a profit, or avoid a loss, in Year 1 but the team will increasingly find itself playing untested rookies and paying more for free agents without homegrown talent.

Attrition: Teachers unprepared to control an unruly classroom, and others leaving for better-paying industries will generate turnover and stifle attempts to recruit out of the shortage. The Department of Education has reported that rates of teacher attrition have risen steadily since 1990. Some estimate that more than a third of new teachers will leave teaching within three years.

For qualified teachers, there is a bright side to the ensuing shortage. While workloads may increase, compensation and benefits should as well in an increasingly competitive market for talent. Some districts have already begun competing for the best teachers with signing bonuses, free health insurance, and subsidized housing. For politicians and taxpayers, our lack of foresight in allowing this to happen will cost us dearly in dollars and the quality of our children’s education.

Sources: The New York Times, Learning Teams: Creating What’s Next, EducationWorld.com

Suggested Readings: Teaching teachers how to teach, Alternative credentials: creating or highlighting problems?, and The teacher draft.

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