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The Start of a New School Year Brings Teacher Shortages to Every State in the Country

The problem of school districts grappling with teacher shortages has been a regular issue over here, and unfortunately, the crisis hasn’t seen any improvement.

The ongoing issue is affecting every state in the union with schools entering a new year shorthanded on staff. The issue has schools both doubling up on class size and hiring teachers with non-standard credentials to meet the demands of educating the country’s students.

A 2016 report by the Learning Policy Institute, a national think tank examining the issue, found that teacher enrollment had fallen by 35 percent from 2009 to 2014, dropping from 691,000 to 451,000 teachers. The institute estimates that if the trend continues, a nationwide shortfall of 112,000 teachers is expected by next year. Meanwhile, the U.S. Education Department has pinpointed that the subjects hit hardest by the current teacher shortage are math, sciences, foreign languages, and special education.

It’s a problem that school superintendents like Brian Freeman of the Forrest County School District in Mississippi are all too familiar with. "We are beginning to feel the impact, especially in the areas of math and special education," Freeman told Hattiesburg American. "There are not enough (teachers) to replace the number who are leaving." The number of teachers’ licenses earned in the state has seen a disturbing drop of an astounding 92 percent over the last decade (7,620 licenses were issued in 2007 and 603 in 2017). Freeman said he believes the reason for the shortage is partly because of less desirable salaries and a negative view of the education profession. It’s a stigma he says his district is doing all it can to change. "We're going to be proactive and talk about the positives of our profession—talk about what we do to change the life of a student,” he said.

Some school districts like several in the California Bay Area are ramping up the number of non-standard teaching credentials to help meet the demand for educators. The state has so far more than doubled the number of non-standard permits that it issued five years ago. Both inner-city and rural school districts in the area are being hit particularly hard by the shortage. While more affluent districts such as Palo Alto Unified have been lucky enough to start fully staffed—only 3 of its 74 new hires lack standard credentials—other districts haven’t been as fortunate. Three weeks before opening Oakland Unified still had close to 50 teaching positions to fill.

Schools are also struggling to retain the teachers they do have who are lured away by higher paying jobs in the private sector, particularly in the areas of math and science. Those who remain are often asked to do more and take on higher classroom numbers. Teachers in Washington, D.C. are finding themselves having to sacrifice planning periods and staff meetings to cover for colleagues because of a lack of substitute teachers.

With secondary teaching salaries remaining largely stagnant over the last two decades and reasons ranging from lack of parental and administrator support and long hours, two-thirds of teachers are leaving before retirement. This has all caused a steady nationwide decline in the number of college freshmen interested in pursuing a teaching career.

Dan Goldhaber, director of the University of Washington's Center for Education Data and Research, suggests a number of strategies for fixing the problem, including making teacher certification national instead of state by state and partnering school districts with local universities.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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