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The Teacher Shortage: Solutions That Work

Low pay, large classes, lack of respect for the profession: Those are probably the most common in a long list of reasons cited for the nation's teacher shortage, which most experts predict will worsen over the next decade. What can school administrators do to combat the dearth of teachers? Included: Education World researched the topic and provides 18 solutions to the problem.

This summer, especially in large cities and rural areas with pockets of poverty, school officials will puzzle over how to bring on board enough teachers for the students who will arrive come August and early September. And U.S. public schools will need an estimated 2.4 million new teachers by 2012, nearly as many as the 2.8 million currently teaching. In wealthy and middle-class suburban school districts, hiring and retaining teachers is expected to remain relatively easy, with many applicants vying for one position, but filling positions within poorer districts is expected to become more challenging than ever.

Is the Teacher Shortage for Real?

Not everyone agrees about why a shortage of teachers exists. Plenty of qualified, credentialed teachers who want to teach are out there, according to an expert who did extensive research into the "teacher shortage." But those teachers left teaching in droves within their first five years in the classroom -- not toward the end of their careers, as other observers have suggested.

"The data tell us that the problem is not too few new teachers being produced, but rather too many teachers prematurely leaving" the profession, Richard M. Ingersoll, an associate professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, told Education World. "In plain terms, recruiting thousands of new candidates into schools will not solve the problem if in a few short years large numbers of them leave."

In an analysis by Ingersoll, the rate of teacher turnover appeared to be higher than that in many other occupations. He maintains that schools must change the organizational sources of low teacher retention, such as low pay, limited support, and lack of respect for the profession.

"The image that comes to mind is a bucket losing water because there are holes in the bottom," Ingersoll says. "Pouring more water into the bucket won't work if the holes aren't patched."

Fighting the teacher shortage calls for solutions to problems that face educators. High living costs discourage many teachers from accepting jobs in urban areas, and programs are being created to offset the price of city housing. Officials in Chicago Public Schools, for example, hope discounts on new homes, condos, and rental units may help lure teachers into classrooms and retain them.

Several companies renting multiple buildings agreed to give teachers at least 5 percent discounts on rent as well as waiving a $1,000 security deposit for a $150 nonrefundable payment. A condo company also offered discounts of $10,000 to $30,000, depending on the size of the unit, on condos priced from $179,000 to $600,000.

"The key to this program is connecting Chicago Public Schools' teachers with the city of Chicago's housing resources," Eduardo Camacho, the deputy commissioner of the city's Department of Housing, told Education World. "This gives Chicago Public Schools a competitive advantage in hiring quality teachers."

Education World's research into the teacher shortage yielded 18 potential tactics that might be employed to fill classroooms with qualified teachers. Those solutions are briefly described below, in no particular order.


Poaching. "Poaching" teachers from other school districts or other states is one solution to the teacher shortage that some say is unethical but which still happens frequently. California recruiters lure teachers from Colorado and other states with benefits such as higher salaries, smaller classes, and hiring during the first interview at job fairs.

New Hampshire shares Colorado's experience. "In the last couple of years, we've lost eight to ten teachers and administrators to Massachusetts for pension reasons alone," Douglas McDonald, superintendent of the Timberlane Regional School District covering four towns near the Massachusetts border, told The Boston Globe. Pension benefits for teachers are more generous in Massachusetts than in the neighboring state, and some Massachusetts districts pay teachers more than their New Hampshire counterparts.

Equalizing pay among districts. Poaching within the same state is as common as intra-state tempting of teachers from one district to another. In a Boston Globe story about competition among Massachusetts school districts for teachers, Bernie Creeden, superintendent of the Topsfield, Boxford, and Middletown Elementary School District, said, "Until two years ago, the informal understanding was that after a certain point in August, if someone was under contract in another district, you didn't talk to them. But the landscape has changed dramatically." A suggested solution to poaching within a state is for the state to set minimum salaries and equalize pay among school districts, eliminating the advantage rich school systems enjoy over poor ones.


Luring white-collar professionals. In April, the Los Angeles Unified School District launched print, radio, and movie ads searching for white-collar professionals who want to change children's lives for the better. The program, called Los Angeles Teaching Fellows, will choose 250 candidates from various professions to participate. The fellows will engage in a demanding six-week training program this summer and then enroll in a three-year internship program that results in a teaching certificate. When fellows begin teaching in classrooms this fall, they will be paid $34,853, the starting salary for teachers with a bachelor's degree and no further course work.

Recruiting overseas. In New York City, school officials recruited teachers from Italy, Spain, Barbados, Jamaica, and Austria and conducted a $6 million ad campaign to tempt teachers into the classroom for the 2001-2002 school year.

Rehiring retirees. In Georgia, school districts may hire retired school teachers but only to fill positions in low-performing schools. Only 1 percent of a school district's full-time staff can be retirees.


Promoting career stability and benefits. The economic downturn may be helping to create interest in teaching as a career. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg County (North Carolina) schools have been flooded with applications for teaching jobs and other school jobs. "The folks who run the data for us are overwhelmed with double or triple the number of applicants for positions," Barbara M. Jenkins, the assistant superintendent for human resources, told Education Week. (See Softening Economy May Ease Hiring Crunch for Schools.) People seem drawn to the education field by a craving for stable employment and health-care benefits.

Recruiting workers from suffering sectors. Thanks to a $1.6 million California grant, the state Employment Development Department created the Technology to Teacher program. The idea is to make teaching appealing to laid-off technology employees by offering them grant money to pay for tuition, books, testing fees, counseling, and other support services. "I'm a little bit nervous, but definitely excited," Tera Creech, who joined the ranks of teachers through the program, told the Los Angeles Times. "Part of the reason I went into science was because I had teachers who made it fun and interesting. I want to open that world to kids."


Building housing for educators. With loan help from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, San Francisco put in place a program through which teachers in its public schools may reside in federally backed subsidized apartments constructed only for them. San Francisco's teachers are paid an average of $40,000 a year; the median home price in the city is $470,000, and one-bedroom apartments rent for $1,900 a month. The Santa Clara (California) Unified School District constructed a $6 million, 40-unit apartment complex for teachers only with significantly lower than otherwise available rental fees. In Aspen, Colorado, the school system built homes teachers can afford to buy in addition to apartments for teachers. Not everyone likes the idea of state or federally subsidized teacher housing. According to Veronica Bucio of the Houston Chronicle, "Subsidized housing -- regardless of how it's packaged -- is a lousy substitute for paying teachers higher salaries."

Forgiving housing loans. Fighting a constant teacher shortage, the St. Louis Public Schools joined Fannie Mae and CitiMortgage to provide forgivable home loans of up to $7,000 for teachers and principals buying homes in the city. The teacher or principal must have been employed by the city school system for at least one year to participate in the loan program. The borrower must stay in the home and work in the city schools for five years for the loan to be forgiven.

Promoting opportunities to "make a difference." The events of September 11 may be creating more of an interest in teaching. "We are noticing a pretty significant number of people who are mentioning in their cover letters how the events of September 11 really impacted their decision to apply," Michelle Rhee, president of a nonprofit group that aids school districts in recruiting and training teachers, told The New York Times. The news story pointed out a "striking increase" after September 11 in applications to teaching programs that recruit people from other careers.

Using people of influence to promote teaching as a career. Influential people have made the plea for more people to become teachers. "I believe teaching is the greatest community service of all," said First Lady Laura Bush in an Associated Press story about her appearance with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at a Washington (D.C.) elementary school. "I have no doubt there is a tremendous untapped pool of potential teachers," Clinton said.


Negotiating reduced class sizes. The top pay needs to increase to retain teachers, and class sizes must be reduced, according to Janna Garrison, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. Some Detroit teachers think that downsizing classes is just as critical as raising pay, even though they agree salaries should be increased. Douglas Carey began the year with 40 students in his math class and ended up with about 31. "It's criminal to expect kids to learn in that situation ... there should be no more than 20 kids in a class," he told the Detroit Free Press. (See Detroit Public Schools Talks Focus on Teacher Retention and Salaries.)

Increasing support for new teachers. The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) issued a report that "nearly half of teachers in 16 southern states leave teaching in the state where they started or quit teaching entirely within five years." Lack of support or respect from their administrators is a key reason for their leaving the profession. More support from administrators, especially for beginning teachers, could help retain more of them.

Raising salaries. At the beginning of the 2001-2002 school year, the Baltimore (Maryland) City Public School System, accustomed to struggling to fill teacher positions, could be selective. Fewer teachers had left their jobs. And the key factor in attracting more new applicants was money, Theodore E. Thornton Sr., human resources director, told The Baltimore Sun. Baltimore had increased its teachers' salaries relative to suburban school district salaries, and the move paid off.

Issuing temporary, "emergency" teaching certificates. Some U.S. school districts with teacher shortages issue so-called emergency teaching certificates, allowing teachers with degrees in areas other than education to teach in the classroom if they complete the required education course work within a certain time frame.


Using the Internet. Teachers and administrators go to the TeachGeorgia Web site to "meet" one another. "Speed is the key in hiring the best teachers," Robert Maxson, a Georgia education department recruitment specialist, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The site, through which teachers can apply for jobs, was designed for easy use and is a quick way for a job seeker and a human resources director for a district or the principal of a school to get together online.

Holding a job fair. Job fairs are a traditional way to attract teachers that has grown in popularity because of the teaching shortage. Generally, more administrators than ever attend these fairs. "But it's like the NFL draft: You've got to scoop up the best before somebody else gets them," Cynthia Augustine, principal at a Canoga Park (California) middle school, told The Daily News of Los Angeles.

Promoting teaching among minority populations. Recruiting more minority teachers is another way of combatting the teacher shortage. Kelly Wise, the founder of the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, has paved the way for many minority college students pursuing careers in education. "We are waging war every day by recruiting people of color in our midst," Wise told Education Week, "people who will be great teachers." (See Prep-School Program Opens Doors for Minority Teachers.)

While focusing on filling teaching positions, administrators need to keep in mind Wise's words of wisdom. Students benefit from not just the required number of teachers, but from teachers who are skilled and dedicated -- teachers who truly care about their students.

Article by Sharon Cromwell
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World