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ASCUS Study Finds 'Favorable Marketplace' for Teachers

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Despite the nation's continuing economic problems, a new study by the Association for School, College, and University Staffing depicts a relatively auspicious marketplace for teachers in most subject areas.

The study, the fifth in a series of ASCUS reports on teacher supply and demand dating back to 1969, concludes that there is either a balance or undersupply of teachers in 30 of 46 categories.

Those characterizations are based on responses from college and university placement officers and public-school officials who were asked to rank the supply of subject-area teachers on a scale ranging from "considerable surplus'' to "considerable shortage.'' Physical education, social studies, and health topped the list of disciplines with a glut of teachers.

Minority teachers are in the greatest undersupply, according to the placement officers and school officials. A variety of special-education fields ranked next, followed by physics, chemistry, foreign languages, and mathematics.

"With the exception of certain areas, it's still a favorable marketplace,'' said Alex C. Moody, the principal author and researcher of the study, which was released earlier this month.

Recently, however, tight budgets for elementary and secondary education have curbed the demand for teachers, added Mr. Moody, the director of the Bureau of School Services at Indiana State University. And continuing budget woes make the future job market uncertain.

Nonetheless, the ASCUS study points out that the number of live births in the United States has risen to more than 4.1 million a year, about the same as in the baby boom year of 1960.

Many members of this "baby boomlet'' have not yet reached school age, so elementary-school enrollments should increase at least through 1996, the report says.

Total student enrollment is projected to increase from 45.1 million in 1985 to 49.1 million in 1995, which will create a corresponding need for more teachers, Mr. Moody said.

Teacher Preparation

At the same time, the study reveals that the number of teachers being prepared by colleges and schools of education has reached its lowest level in 20 years.

The number of education-school graduates increased modestly in the second half of the 1980's, but that figure has fallen substantially since 1990 to the point where the number of graduates in 1991-92 is more than 65 percent less than in the peak of 1971-72.

Like other recent reports on the subject, the ASCUS study illustrates the near impossibility of speaking of a national job market for teachers because supply and demand vary so widely by both subject matter and region.

This new study, for example, finds the greatest oversupply of teachers in the Northeast, which continues to be one of the regions hardest hit by the recession. Public-school teachers are in much greater demand, by contract, in the South-Central, Southwest, Northwest, and West regions.

Although the ASCUS report provides new data about the teacher marketplace, it will not resolve the continuing debate over the existence--or absence--of a teacher shortage. The massive shortages predicted in the mid-1980's have not materialized, and some researchers have recently maintained that there is a considerable oversupply of qualified teachers.

Emily Feistritzer, who directs the National Center for Education Information, a private organization, is one researcher who has argued that there are no teacher shortages.

"By and large,'' Ms. Feistritzer said last week, "our research is showing that, by the time the school year starts, districts have the teachers they want in the classrooms.''

Studies such as ASCUS's, which focus primarily on figures from education schools, "won't cut it,'' she argued, because they ignore large pools of nontraditional teaching candidates, such as military retirees, career-changers, and former teachers returning to the classroom.

"I don't know that the last word will ever be written'' on the subject, she said.

Copies of "A Study of U.S. Teacher Supply and Demand'' are available for $15 each ($10 for member institutions) from ASCUS, 1600 Dodge Ave., S-330, Evanston, Ill. 60201-3451.

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