Wherefore and Whither The Teacher Shortage?

The Teacher Shortage Myth is typical of the scoffing view that says “How can there be a teacher shortage when the teacher population is increasing at a faster clip than the student population?

We have a teacher shortage.  Debate the breadth and depth as you will. But if teachers were thick on the ground, would principals be so reluctant to give bad reviews to marginal teachers? Would  Race to the Top have failed so satisfactorily if parents and districts alike weren’t worried that their teacher pool would be threatened? Why are California and Nevada and a number of other states bringing in teachers from the Philippines? 

So for the purposes of this article, accept the fact that we’ve got a teacher shortage.

I don’t see why anti-teacher folks make so much hay out of the discrepancy between student and teacher growth. I can think of several reasons why schools would need more teachers despite a stable or even declining student population.  From least to most determinative of obvious explanations:

  1. Since 2002 or so, middle school teachers have had to be credentialed at the more demanding high school standard. Existing teachers were grandfathered in, but as they retire, the newer hires are being drawn from the high school pool. At the same time, education policy in practice now requires all students to take four years of math, although likewise in practice this often means students take four years to pass the required two or three years officially mandated. In any case, there’s been a largely unreported increase in the need for academic subject teachers.
  2. A good chunk of that student growth is in immigrants and non-English speakers. We public schools are required to take all kids of school age the minute they set foot on our soil, regardless of their previous education or English ability. An explosion in immigration keeps the need for ESL teachers growing, and those classes are very small. Our school keeps the equivalent of one full-time hire for about 16 kids.
  3. Similarly, a good chunk of the student growth involved more special education students, another population that has a legal ability to demand small classes.  Special ed students cost, on average, twice that of a regular student (the last we checked, which was 16 years ago). In high school, most of them are eligible for what’s basically a study hall, meaning we pay teachers to do a lot of case management, parent meetings, and run classes of 8-10 kids doing very little most of the time.
  4. The big one, of course, is charter schools. According to Edweek, the public school teacher population grew from 3,385,200 to about 3,800,000 in 4 years, with 218,500 of that group teaching at charters. But what the Edweek reporter doesn’t mention is that those same four years earlier, from the same report, the charter teacher population was just 115,600, or an 89% increase. Public school proper teachers grew to 3,581,500 from 3,269,600, or just 9.5%–a believable increase given the first three points. Of the 400,000 teachers added in 4 years, 25% of them work at charters, teaching just 6% of the population.

    I do not understand why people don’t understand the obvious impact of using public dollars to fund what are basically small private schools–with capped enrollment, no less. We have X students. Educating X students at Y schools requires Z teachers. Educating X students at Y + some number of schools will require Z+ some bigger number of teachers. Full stop.

 

Leaving demand behind, let’s take a look at supply.

Do not expect, dear reader, a jeremiad about the woeful lack of respect the public has for teachers. The public gives us plenty of respect. If you want a fairly well-thought out, pro-union, pro-teacher case for the teacher shortage, here’s Peter Greene from a couple years ago. I don’t know that I agree with all his reasoning, but he’s thorough and logical and despite the anti-reform rhetoric, reasonably compelling. (Remember that I, too, think reform is useless, but our reasons differ, as do our proposed fixes.)

But I think about this differently. Never mind pay, respect, anti-teaching rhetoric. Take a look at these anecdotes from the last few years, all of which describe very current reality:

Millennials are Screwed:

millennialscott

Why So Many Higher Ed Professors Make So Little

adjunctteachercomparison

The Problem With Being Just a Teacher

adjunctteacherslam

I am an adjunct professor who teaches five classes. I make less than a pet-sitter.

adjunctwoes

College graduates working as bus drivers, barristas, or waiters. PhDs desperately trying to cobble a living out of college teaching contingent jobs.

I am reliably informed that teaching has a low barrier to entry. We don’t learn anything useful in classes, the argument goes, and there’s no knowledge base to memorize. GPAs are ludicrously low. The credential tests are a bit of a facer, but certainly not for the well-educated folks of the stories above.  There’s job security so tenacious it’s given birth to a dozen laws intended to dislodge it–laws that have, for the most part, failed, in a world that otherwise sees the tie between employer and employee disintegrate. Benefits are disappearing. Increasing numbers of jobs are contingent.

But a millennial with a business degree chose to be a bus driver when he couldn’t get a bank job. Adjuncts are so easily found begging for work that colleges can treat them like disposable diapers.

I’m not offering criticism or suggestion, just describing a choice that shouldn’t make sense, given the public policy discourse about teaching. These aren’t entrepreneurs choosing a career that will reward ambition and excellence, sneering at the “widget” teacher. These are people who, for whatever reason, aren’t succeeding in their post-college career. Whether  teachers are underpaid, disrespected, or undeserving mediocrities ensconced in a sinecure,  non-trivial chunks of people with college degrees are rejecting these secure teaching jobs with more pay and security for widget jobs with less pay, less respect, and no future.

Why?

So there you go. We have a teacher shortage. I offered some reasons why the growth in demand for teachers might outstrip the growth in students. I’ve pointed out at least two sources of college educated strugglers that apparently aren’t turning to teaching despite its offering of better pay and more security.

I have no evidence for any of this but then, when did that stop anyone else?

Part 2 coming soon, I think. If not, just consider this mind food and mull it over your own self.

Note: I borrowed the feature image, the one that comes through on Twitter, from here

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9 responses to “Wherefore and Whither The Teacher Shortage?

  • Joel

    One of Ed Real’s Blogroll honorees, Paul Bruno, had a 2015 overview with numerous detailed graphs depicting changes within the past couple of decades in California:

    http://paul-bruno.com/2015/08/californias-teacher-supply-in-15-charts/

  • Jim

    If the anecdote about the millennial now driving a bus is at all typical it indicates what a huge social and economic disaster our higher education system has become. In addition to the devastating impact on individuals like him there is also a huge future bailout that taxpayers will have to pay.

  • splively

    Speaking as someone about to make the transition to HS teaching after carving out a modest corporate career and adjuncting for a few years, there are two main reasons I didn’t make the switch earlier:
    1. The credential headache. Grad school for a credential and student teaching is a bitter pill to swallow when you’ve already invested so much time, money and opportunity cost in education.
    2. Math and science specific shortages – I greatly disliked math and this was the big need in my area. I liked some science but I had a hard time picturing myself teaching it. I’d wager that many of the adjuncts making 25k a year are teaching something in the liberal arts and either fear or loathe stem subjects.

    • Powerlurker

      Those adjuncts are generally teaching entry-level humanities courses at several different institutions in hopes that some day, someone will give them a tenure track position (which they won’t, the handful of positions that open each year, even in directional state schools, will go to the new batch of hotshots graduating from top programs). The big reason why adjuncts make peanuts is that the position was never intended to support a person as a full-time career. Adjunct faculty were traditionally people who had found professional success outside of academia and would teach a class or two as a sideline (e.g. an industrial chemist or professional engineer teaching a class or two to bring their depth of experience to the next generation). These people had their day job to pay their bills, so their earnings for adjuncting were intended more as an honorarium than something intended to actually support a person and his/her family. Meanwhile, colleges and universities realized that there is an oversupply of Ph.D’s willing to teach their freshman composition classes that none of the tenured faculty want to deal with, for peanuts.

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