Shortages of '85 Vanish as Schools Hire Uncertified Teachers

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

What some school officials had feared might be a "tip-of-the-iceberg" teacher shortage this fall--the beginning of the severe shortage predicted for the 1990's--appears to have melted away in the waning days of summer.

Recent interviews with local and state education officials in 35 states disclosed that most school districts--even some expecting sizable shortages--had filled their teacher vacancies by the beginning of classes.

But the officials also said they could not have filled many of the openings without hiring teachers who lack the training in pedagogy or subject matter normally required by their state. Their comments confirmed recent charges by the leaders of both national teachers' unions that "semi-qualified" people are filling positions in shortage areas.

In a press conference earlier this month, Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association, said the growing practice of easing certification requirements to fill vacancies makes a"mockery" of education reform.

She said it is now common for school administrators to accept on an emergency basis teachers with no teacher training. In addition, she cited nea statistics indicating that more than 104,000 teachers are teaching full time outside their fields and another 57,000 teachers teach more than three-quarters of their time outside their fields.

This week, Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and A. Graham Down, executive director of the Washington-based Council for Basic Education, are scheduled to release the results of a survey conducted during the 1984-85 school year on the "misassignment of teachers."

Mr. Shanker said in an interview last week that although he does not have a problem with waiving teacher training temporarily, it is "criminal" to allow people to teach subjects in which they do not have an appropriate education.

Demographic Trends Converge

While the full scope of the impending teacher shortage remains uncertain, experts are predicting that it may be the most severe the nation has experienced. They base their predictions on the convergence of several demographic trends.

Since 1972, studies show, the number of college students majoring in education has declined by more than 50 percent. Concurrently, the precollegiate age group has begun to expand--the product of the coming of school age of the "baby boomlet" of children born to the post-World War II generation.

In addition, the average age of American teachers--now about 42--is rising. In the next five years, nea officials predict, 30 to 40 percent of the current teaching force will retire.

Projections from the National Center for Education Statistics suggest the consequences of such trends. By 1992, according to the center's projections, there will be 34 percent fewer teachers nationwide than positions available, a shortfall of some 72,000 teachers.

nces data indicate that this school year is one of the "crossover" years, in which the supply of teachers approximates the demand (see chart on this page). But education officials note that the widely publicized reports of a current teacher shortage are not entirely without foundation.

The demographics of education, these experts say, have already begun to affect certain geographic and subject areas. And shortage reports reflect such phenomena as the recent enrollment surges in the Sunbelt states (particularly California, Florida, and Texas), the special problems rural and inner-city school districts have had in attracting and retaining teachers, and the continuing imbalance in the supply of teachers in "critical-shortage" subjects, such as mathematics, science, languages, and vocational and special education.

Educators, policymakers, and officials of teachers' unions are watching these bellwether shortages closely to see how the affected districts are coping with unfilled teaching positions. And for now, many say, they do not like what they see.

"The thing that bothers me most," said David G. Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, ''is the apparent willingness to respond once again the way we did in the 1970's--that is, to let anyone into a classroom, with or without preparation."

"It is a denial of the whole reform movement," Mr. Imig said. "And it is a further denial that there is a knowledge base and something called pedagogy."

Yet, with few exceptions, local and state school officials who faced shortages throughout the summer said in recent interviews that vacancies in their states and districts had been filled.

In Los Angeles, for example, school officials had reported 1,800 teacher vacancies this summer. But by the opening of school, the district had offered contracts to 2,600 applicants and, as of last week, had filled all vacancies--even in inner-city schools that officials said experienced "chronic" shortages.

New York City, which had 4,000 vacancies to fill when the summer began, last week had between 100 and 200 unfilled positions.

In New Hampshire school administrators throughout the state had complained this summer of "nightmare" shortages, some calling their hiring situations "dire." But according to Robert L. Brunelle, the state's commissioner of education, only about 200 emergency-certifified teachers are in place this fall, most of them in critical-shortage areas.

Florida, with one of the nation's fastest-growing populations, had anticipated a shortage of 8,000 teachers this fall. But school officials in several urban and rural districts said last week they had filled most openings.

And even in economically depressed urban Detroit, school officials interviewed last week listed only 40 teaching vacancies.

Emergency Credentials

But in almost all cases, the solution to expected shortages has involved the hiring of teachers on an "emergency" basis.

In Los Angeles, an emergency waiver of the teacher training normally required by the state was a key factor in the district's ability to "vault from a teacher shortage to a possible oversupply," said Irene Yamahara, assistant superintendent of the district's personnel division.

About 70 percent of the district's new teachers this year have emergency credentials, she said.

California requires teachers to major in a subject area and complete a fifth year of teacher training in order to obtain a teaching credential. But the state also offers a 10-month emergency license to applicants lacking the pedagogical training, if they have a baccalaureate degree and pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test.

Ms. Yamahara said that teachers with emergency credentials will be working this fall under the "close supervision" of experienced teachers and administrators and that they must complete the required teacher training within three years to obtain a regular credential.

Alleviates Shortage

The Houston Independent School District would be without 230 of the 1,700 teachers hired this year if officials had not accepted candidates without requisite teacher training, said Rosalind Young, a spokesman for the school system.

The teachers were hired as part of an experimental one-year pilot project approved recently by the state board of education.

The Houston district still needs 40 bilingual-education and 150 elementary-school teachers, Ms. Young said, but has hired its quota of "alternative certification interns."

Half of the 4,000 new teachers hired by the New York City public schools have not taken the education courses required for state certification, said Edward P. Aquilone, executive director of the system's division of personnel.

The New York City Board of Education passed a resolution last year allowing college graduates who have not had teacher training to teach in the city's schools. That measure helped greatly in alleviating teacher shortages this year and last, according to Mr. Aquilone.

He added that 93 percent of the provisionally certified elementary-school teachers hired for 1984-85 are teaching again this year.

'Highly Qualified' Candidates

Provisional certification has come under fire from some educators in New York, Mr. Aquilone said, "but everyone is realizing that there were very few youngsters in the education schools."

He said principals in the system's 1,000 elementary and secondary schools have also told him teachers with academic backgrounds other than education "tend to be a little more versed in their subject matter."

Alan F. Perrin, superintendent of schools in what he characterizes as the "fairly desolate" district of Berlin, N.H., agrees. The one uncertified teacher he hired this year, he said, is "highly qualified"--an English teacher with a master's degree in a foreign language, plus the 36 hours of English coursework required to teach that subject.

Mr. Perrin said he would prefer a teacher with all the qualifications required by the state. But because of the low salaries and remoteness of Berlin, the district settles for the best candidate it can find.

Bill Honig, California's superintendent of public instruction, acknowledged that the state has "got to watch" emergency credentialing to make sure openings are not filled with "warm bodies."

"We're not going to lower standards," he said. But he added that school officials must be open to "alternatives."

"If we can get crackerjack physicists, I think we should get them, even if it means a differentiated staffing pattern," said Mr. Honig.

Some Educators Unconvinced

But according to most teacher educators interviewed, teachers without pedagogical training do not belong in the classroom--even during shortages.

"It is the apparent, easy solution," said James W. Guthrie, professor of education at the University of California at Berkeley. "Sometimes it is a very exciting solution, but more often than not, it doesn't work."

The escalating acceptance of programs allowing people without teacher training to teach, he said, reflects the fact that "exceptions dominate the headlines."

"The media only report about the chemist who comes in and turns out to be an exciting teacher second only to Socrates," said Mr. Guthrie. "What they don't describe is the 93 out of 100 that don't turn out to be good teachers."

The lack of pedagogical training is a real handicap for new teachers, he said. "Without it, they may be absent any understanding of testing, may not know the appropriate sequence of the curriculum, may have unreal expectations about the pace at which children develop."

Others interviewed, citing further dimensions of the current shortage situation, said the problem of inadequate training extends beyond pedagogy.

Linda F. Jordan, a consultant working with the Georgia Department of Education on teacher recruitment, said 1,838 teachers in Georgia public schools last year were not properly certified to teach the courses they were teaching.

Georgia's teacher shortages are not statewide, she said, but in geographic areas, primarily rural, and in subject areas, such as mathematics, science, special education, and foreign languages.

In most cases, she said, the teachers with provisional certification are in the process of completing coursework to convert from their original subject fields to shortage fields.

In the Leon County (Fla.) school district, which includes Tallahassee, officials have been forced to fill vacancies with what Charles Couch, the district's superintendent, calls "semi-qualified" teachers.

Even though the system is not rural and is located in an "oasis" of higher-education institutions, Mr. Couch said, it is experiencing "great difficulty" in locating teacher applicants in mathematics, science, vocational education, special education, and foreign languages.

"And 100 miles from here," he added, "it gets really bad."

According to Mr. Couch, nearly half of the mathematics and science teachers in Florida are not qualified under state law to teach those subjects.

'Real' Issues

Several state certification officers interviewed said that, in addition to being "bad educational policy," the practice of hiring college graduates who lack proper teaching credentials can also delay consideration of the serious issues raised by present and impending teacher shortages.

"I don't know what makes people think there are a whole lot of college graduates out there who want to teach and just didn't take the college of education courses," said Sidney Simandle, director of the Kentucky Department of Education's division of teacher education and certification.

College students who shun teacher training usually do so because they do not want the "low status, low pay, and poor working conditions" of teaching, he maintained.

Unless these "real" problems are addressed, he said, the teacher shortage will reach the crisis proportions experts have predicted.

Vol. 05, Issue 04

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories