Despite forecasts of an impending teacher shortage, the country as a whole appears close to having enough educators to go around--at least for the time being, a new government report suggests. But other findings in the study show that America’s schools still face serious human resources challenges as they try to find the best teacher for each position.
The report represents the National Center for Education Statistics’ most comprehensive analysis yet on such aspects of the nation’s teaching force as qualifications, job satisfaction, and instructional techniques.
“America’s Teachers: Profile of a Profession, 1993-1994" draws on six previously compiled surveys. It was released at a press briefing here last week by the NCES, the data-collection arm of the Department of Education.
Earlier this summer, the National Education Association released the results of its own survey focusing on the demographics and working conditions of teachers in the United States. (See Education Week, July 9, 1997.)
The NCES study found that in 1993-94 less than 1 percent of all teaching vacancies at public schools were either left open or filled by substitute teachers. And 95 percent of public schools reported filling vacancies with fully qualified teachers.
At the same time, many teachers were teaching outside their fields of study. More than one-third of public school teachers who taught either English, foreign language, mathematics, or social studies had neither an undergraduate major nor a minor in their primary teaching-assignment areas. The rate jumped to 43 percent in schools where 40 percent or more of the students were eligible for free or reduced-priced lunches.
“Out-of-field teaching reflects an atmosphere that doesn’t respect how important this job is and how hard it is to do well,” said Richard Ingersoll, a University of Georgia sociologist who has studied the issue.
But the trends highlighted in the report say at least as much about how schools place educators as they do about teachers’ qualifications, he added.
Still, schools reported more difficulty finding teachers of specific subjects--especially schools serving higher concentrations of poor students. Among such schools, about 18 percent said it was “very difficult” to fill math-teacher vacancies, and nearly one-fourth reported the same experience trying to find bilingual education teachers.
Further, the report cautions, the next few years could see overall teacher shortages as baby boom educators retire and enrollments continue to break records. (See Education Week, Sept. 11, 1996.)
Highlights of the NCES’ latest reports may be viewed on the World Wide Web at: http://www.ed.gov/NCES/pubs.
A version of this article appeared in the August 06, 1997 edition of Education Week