Budget Troubles Lessen Demand for Teachers

By Julie Blair — September 03, 2003 5 min read
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Demand for precollegiate teachers has shrunk over the past two years as school districts have cut jobs to save money—a phenomenon that may be scaring some prospective educators away from the profession.

Preliminary data from the American Association for Employment in Education show that 57 percent of teaching and administrative jobs that fall into 64 categories had a surplus of candidates or were perceived to have a “balanced” market in which supply meets demand during the hiring season preceding the 2002-03 school year.

In contrast, 46 percent fit into those categories two years prior, considered the “pinnacle” of the teacher shortage, said B.J. Bryant, the executive director of the Columbus, Ohio-based organization. No surpluses existed at all that year, she said.

Survey results will be published in the 2004 AAEE Job Search Handbook, scheduled for release this fall. Copies can be purchased for $25 by calling (614) 485-1111 or ordering on the Web from the American Association for Employment in Education.

“We think the demand has softened because of budgets, not because there is some brand-new supply of teachers available,” Ms. Bryant added.

Major shortages remain, especially for positions in special education, mathematics, and science and in classrooms in the West, Southwest, and South, she noted. Urban schools are also continuing to have a tough time recruiting educators.

“For a school system to hire highly qualified teachers, it is still problematic; two years ago, it was highly problematic,” Ms. Bryant said.

That message, however, does not always seem to be making its way to college campuses. Some education deans report that students are changing majors based on media reports wrongly declaring the shortage of teachers to be over.

“Over the course of the last year, I had an average of five to 10 students in my office per week asking, ‘Should I stay in education?’” said Tes Mehring, the dean of the college of education at Emporia State University. The Kansas institution produces upwards of 350 education majors each year in an area of the country where demand is low.

Special Education Demands

The education-employment association’s survey shows that the market has softened, but that shortages have not been alleviated. It was compiled from data given to the group by nearly 1,300 college-based teacher- preparation programs and is scheduled to be published this fall.

Today, “we can probably get enough people in classrooms,” Ms. Bryant said. Whether those educators are considered “highly qualified,” a provision of the No Child Left Behind Act, however, is unknown.

The federal law, adopted in 2001, mandates that states ensure all teachers in the core academic subjects be fully licensed and demonstrate subject-matter competency by the end of the 2005-06 school year. Teachers new to schools that receive Title I money for disadvantaged students must already meet that standard.

For the first time, a sufficient number of prekindergarten, kindergarten, health, dance, social studies, physical education, and elementary education teachers are available to fill current positions around the nation, the survey found.

Such surpluses, though, are not “considerable,” says the report.

Thirty other educator categories have supplies to meet demand. Among them are: reading, gifted/talented, counselors, library science, and principals at all school levels.

An additional 24 categories are experiencing “some shortages.” Those positions include various jobs in special education as well as teachers of English as a second language, general science, chemistry, and biology.

Finding superintendents also appears to be a somewhat difficult undertaking.

Only three job categories were rated as having severe shortages. Educators willing to teach physics or instruct students with severe disabilities are desperately needed as are those with “multicategorical” certifications, which are held by special education teachers.

Ms. Bryant emphasized that the survey provides a picture of national outcomes, and that statewide and local variations can be significant.

Still, “this is good news,” concluded Mildred Hudson, the chief executive officer for the Belmont, Mass.-based Recruiting New Teachers, a nonprofit group that tracks trends in the profession.

Fully Staffed

Meanwhile, administrators in DeKalb County, Ga., near Atlanta, are celebrating.

“This is one of the first years where we’ve opened up schools fully staffed,” said David R. Francoeur, the coordinator for certified employment for the 98,000-student system.

He attributes the situation to offering fewer jobs—500 vs. 800, a decision made to satisfy budget demands—and to improved recruitment policies.

Mr. Francoeur noted, too, that the applicant pool in Georgia seemed to be much larger, as the field has been flooded with workers from other sectors.

“We had over 35,000 applications,” he added. “Two and a half years ago, we had between 10,000 and 13,000.”

While jobs are filled in DeKalb County, vacancies persist elsewhere in Georgia. Yet many teachers don’t want to move from the Atlanta area or teach subjects in districts or schools where there are continuing shortages.

“Our data indicate that students tend to take jobs within 50 miles of their hometowns and 50 miles of their universities—or both,” said William E. Loadman, the associate dean of research in the college of education at Ohio State University in Columbus, who contributed to the employment association’s project.

About “50 percent of all teachers in the nation are prepared in the Midwest,” he added.

Narrow geographic horizons are not the only problem, he said. There also simply aren’t enough preparation programs to generate the number of teachers needed for some subjects.

Of the nation’s 1,275 teacher education programs, fewer than 40 percent offer programs in such shortage areas as mathematics and physics, Mr. Loadman said.

“In too many cases, teacher-preparation [programs] are not being market-responsive,” added Thomas G. Carroll, the executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a Washington-based nonprofit group.

“They’re not targeting their people to the shortages in the districts and schools they serve.”

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