It may be puzzling to read stories like this about teacher shortages after a year that saw California school districts lay off thousands of teachers. Some critics have mocked this talk of teacher shortages. And there's reason to be skeptical about predictions of teacher shortages, since for years there was talk about California facing a prospective shortage of 100,000 new teachers right about now.
So is the teacher shortage talk just total bunk? Not exactly. California does face, right now, shortages in certain kinds of teachers. Highly qualified teachers who graduated in the top third of their class are in short supply. So are teachers with the skill to teach math, science and special education. One of the untold stories is that in districts such as Los Angeles Unified, elementary school teachers -- of whom there may be too many -- have borne the brunt of layoffs. The district still remains short on science and math instructors.
There's another possible teacher shortage: in the future. if public school enrollment increases as some project, the state would need to boost its production of new teachers by the end of the decade. Writes the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning in this new report:
"While student enrollment has dipped in the past few years, it is expected once again to increase by more than 230,000 students between 2009–10 and 2018–19, with the most significant growth at the elementary level. Yet California has seen a recent loss of new teachers and dramatic decreases in enrollment in preparation programs and the production of teaching credentials. As aging teachers retire, California’s capacity to produce the numbers of new teachers the workforce will need has been weakened and the state may again face a shortage. Consider:
- The number of novice teachers has declined by 18,000 teachers or 50% in the last two years.
- The number of enrollees in teacher preparation programs dropped by 45%, from more than 75,000 to fewer than 45,000 between 2001-02 and 2007-08.
- The number of teaching credentials issued by institutions of higher education in California declined by 35% since 2004, from 27,000 to 17,800.
- In 2009-10, 32% of the workforce was more than 50 years old, keeping about one-third of the state’s teachers on track for retirement within ten years.
Unfortunately, the state’s capacity to prepare teachers has also been damaged. In response to unprecedented budget cuts, CSU, the state’s largest preparer of teachers, has had to reduce enrollment, increase tuition and make adjustments in staffing. These changes have removed potential teachers from the pipeline and weakened training, monitoring and support of student teachers as they begin their careers."
Translation: the problem with cuts in the teaching profession today -- cuts that have targeted younger teachers because of union seniority rules -- is what the cuts may be doing to our supply of teachers in the future.
Since it's hard to predict the future, it's hard to know how to respond, in terms of producing teachers. But shortages should be avoided. Shortages of teachers are problematic because it means that less experienced or less effective teachers may get into the classroom. A glut isn't a bad thing, if it increases competition for jobs and thus boosts the quality of instruction. So even if the shortage of teachers arises, producing more teachers -- especially highly-qualified teachers -- should remain a priority.