New Statistics Indicate Supply, Not Demand,
Previous predictions of teacher shortages later in this decade based mainly on demographic projections of increased elementary-school enrollment have been called into question by recent federal demographic surveys.
However, unpublished figures from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (aacte), an organization of about 730 of the nation's 1,350 teacher-training programs, suggest a continued sharp drop in the supply of new teachers, a trend that some experts say will itself create a general, nationwide shortage of teachers by 1987 or 1988.
Declines to Offset Increases
According to Census Bureau projections released this spring, continued enrollment declines in secondary schools seem likely to offset projected increases in elementary-school enrollments. The number of children under 14, the Census Bureau reports, will increase by 12.4 percent, from 46 million to 52 million, between 1980 and 1990, indicating that the need for elementary-school teachers will increase.
But the Census Bureau also predicts that over the same period of time the number of high-school-age children (14 to 17 years old) will decrease by 19 percent, from 15.8 million to 12.8 million, suggesting the likelihood of a sharp drop in teaching positions at the high-school level.
In addition, preliminary data from a forthcoming report by the National Center for Education Statistics suggest that there will be only a 1-percent increase in total public-school enrollment between 1980 and 1990.
And "occupational outlook" figures released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics project an 18-to-19-percent increase in the number of elementary-school teaching jobs by 1990 and a 14-percent decrease in secondary-school teaching positions by the same year.
"There is a likelihood of some growth in demand for elementary-school teachers," said William S. Graybeal, who studies teacher supply and demand for the National Education Association (NEA). "But it will probably be a washout," he said, suggesting that any forthcoming increase in demand for elementary-school teachers will be offset by a decreased need for secondary-school teachers.
Whether that happens, Mr. Graybeal said, would depend on how many laid-off secondary-school teachers switch over to teaching at the elementary level.
The supply of teachers, however, is continuing to decline dramatically.
aacte predicts that next year its 730 members--which graduate about 80 percent of the new teachers trained in the country each year--will award an average of 101 bachelor's degrees in education per institution. This is 66 percent fewer than the average 10 years earlier, in 1973, when the average was 305 such degrees per school.
Mr. Graybeal predicts that college students will continue to avoid the teaching profession until teachers' salaries and working conditions are improved.
W. Timothy Weaver, an associate professor of education at Boston University and a leading researcher in the area of teacher supply and demand, also predicts that this decline in the number of newly trained teachers will continue and may lead to a general shortage of teachers by 1987 or 1988.
"Some school districts will start to cry that they cannot get enough teachers," he said.
Mr. Weaver said the projected need for elementary-school teachers in the coming years does not persuade current college students to become teachers. "Kids are looking at what the market situation is today," he said.
Mr. Weaver added that the movement among many states to screen teacher candidates with minimum-basic-skills tests may also reduce the supply of new teachers and cause a teacher shortage.
However, an ad hoc committee of the Council of Chief State School Officers has recently endorsed a policy, intended to improve the quality of teachers, that emphatically supports the intentional creation of a teacher shortage.
Raise Test Standards
Having concluded that the basic-skills tests have failed to improve the desired quality of teachers, the committee, chaired by Robert G. Scanlon, secretary of education in Pennsylvania, will urge in a forthcoming report that state education departments deliberately create teacher shortages by raising the standards on the skills tests.
The purpose, according to Mr. Scanlon, is to force school districts to compete for the available teachers with higher wages, which in turn would attract higher-caliber students into the profession.
Mr. Weaver said that opposition to the committee's plan from financially burdened school districts will make it difficult to implement.
"Test standards will drop to the level of the quality of the students taking the test, because school districts need bodies in the classroom and they will not pay the two- or three-times larger salaries that would be needed to get top students to enter the teaching profession.''
He also predicted that many financially strapped school districts may respond by simply increasing class sizes.
While Mr. Weaver, Mr. Graybeal, and other experts predict that there will be a general shortage of teachers by the end of this decade, they point out that the supply and demand for teachers will vary greatly from region to region and among different subjects.
It has been well publicized, for example, that school districts throughout the country already have severe shortages of qualified mathematics, science, and--in some cases--special-education and vocational-education teachers.
The demand for teachers will be likely to be much greater in fast-growing parts of the country, such as the Southwest, the Southeast, and the Far West.
Said Mr. Graybeal: "National trends do not necessarily represent local, even regional, trends. The Sunbelt and the West are in an entirely different world than the Great Lakes and the Northeast."