Teacher Shortage Imperils Reform,New Study Says

By Thomas Toch — August 22, 1984 5 min read

Unless immediate steps are taken, the nation’s schools will soon face severe shortages of qualified teachers that may undermine the school-reform movement in progress in many parts of the country, the Rand Corporation warns in a report scheduled to be released this week.

“The crisis now emerging in the teaching profession could preclude the attainment of the other reforms being urged,” writes Linda Darling-Hammond, a Rand researcher and author of the report, “Beyond the Commission Reports: The Coming Crisis in Teaching.”

Ms. Darling-Hammond identifies a number of trends that will contribute to a shortage of teachers in the public schools, including the sharp drop in the number of education majors over the past decade, projections of surges in elementary-school enrollments in each year through 1992, and a decline in the academic ability of teaching candidates.

“The number of new entrants is insufficient to meet the coming demand for teachers,” she writes.

Ms. Darling-Hammond also cites studies showing that many of the most able teachers are leaving the profession, most often for retirement or careers in more lucrative fields. Talented individuals are leaving the teaching profession, and others are declining to enter it, because of low salaries, dreary working conditions, and, in particular, the absence of opportunities for advancement, according to Ms. Darling-Hammond.

“Unless major changes are made in the structure of the occupation, it will be necessary to hire and retain large numbers of marginally qualified people,” writes Ms. Darling-Hammond.

Shortages Exist

While school systems have struggled for several years to find an adequate supply of capable teachers in such fields as mathematics and science, recent developments suggest that general shortages of teachers now also exist in many regions of the country:

In Los Angeles, school officials are trying to fill 1,800 vacancies before the opening of school in a few weeks. The board of education has taken several steps recently to recruit those it needs to fill out its 26,000-teacher force.

It recently established criteria for “emergency credentials” that would allow anyone with a bachelor’s de-gree who passes a basic-skills test to teach in elementary schools.

The criteria for an emergency high-school certificate include a bachelor’s degree and passing grades on a basic-skills test and on a test in the subject that the individual will teach.

In neither case do teachers need education courses to be hired, though all teachers would take such courses once they have been employed.

Application Procedure

The board also approved the creation of a “one-stop” application procedure, according to a spokesman for the school system, to streamline what he said is often a lengthy process that has deterred many prospective teachers from seeking jobs with the school system.

Under the new procedure, anyone may go to a central recruiting center without an appointment, receive a full orientation on the school system and the location of teaching vacancies, and the same day be sent out for interviews at the schools with openings. In the past, the hiring process could take many weeks, the spokesman said.

Some 600 people were hired under the new system in the first two and a half weeks following its initiation in July.

The school system, which completed the 1983-84 school year with a shortage of 900 teachers, has also committed itself to assigning its first 400 newly-hired teachers this summer to 55 inner-city schools with severe teacher shortages.

Officials of the Baltimore City public schools made visits to 30 col-leges in eight states earlier this year in search of prospective teachers.

“We’re going to have to make such trips a matter of routine in the future,” said Thomas LoFaro, the school system’s assistant superintendent for human resources and labor relations. “From what we can see, the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.”

As of last week, the school system had “well over 100" vacancies, according to Mr. LoFaro.

Faced with a shortage of 3,500 teachers and eager to lure more liberal-arts graduates into its classrooms, the New York City Board of Education voted last spring to abandon its requirement that all prospective teachers have at least six education credits on their transcripts. To get the word out, the board bought advertisements in New York newspapers and distributed public-service announcements to local television and radio stations in the area. (See story on page 25.)

Nonetheless, the city will start the school year with an estimated shortage of several thousand teachers in its teaching force of 57,000, officials say.

Six Georgia school systems also facing shortages will have mathematics and science teachers recruited from West Germany at the front of their classrooms when school opens in the fall. (See story on page 15.)

The Louisiana superintendent of education, Thomas G. Clausen, citing a need to ease a shortage of teachers in several academic subjects, recently announced his intention to lower the passing scores on a number of the state’s teacher-certifi-cation examinations.

A recent study by the Washington State Department of Education found that 28 percent of the high-school teachers in the state were not adequately prepared to teach the subjects to which they were assigned.

According to the dean of education at Arizona State University, Arizona’s colleges graduated only 1,300 education majors last spring, while there will be an estimated 2,500 teaching positions open in the state in the fall.


To attract and retain top teachers, Ms. Darling-Hammond says in her report, schools must pay teachers higher salaries and offer them a more professional working environment.

Specifically, she recommends starting salaries of $20,000 and top salaries of $50,000, recruitment strategies that include scholarships and loans for talented college students interested in the profession, and supervised internships of new teachers.

She also recommends that paraprofessionals be hired to relieve teachers of their nonteaching duties and that experienced teachers be allowed to assume increased responsibilities within the school building.

“Taken together,” Ms. Darling-Hammond writes, “these reforms suggest a new career structure in which professionally enforced standards of practice are combined with increased responsibility for decisionmaking by those who successfully demonstrate their competence.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 22, 1984 edition of Education Week as Teacher Shortage Imperils Reform,New Study Says