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Chat Wrap-Up: Teacher Supply and Demand

May 09, 2006 5 min read
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Education Week sponsors regular online chats on its Web site, edweek.org. On April 26, readers questioned B.J. Bryant, the executive director of the American Association for Employment in Education, about teacher shortages and surpluses, and general trends in the education job market. Below are excerpts from the discussion.

Question: Which areas of the country are experiencing the greatest teacher shortages?

A full transcript of this chat is available at www.edweek.org/chat/supply/

Bryant: Follow the sun: The demographics for several years have shown the movement of populations into coastal areas (the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, the District of Columbia), the Southwest, and, to some extent, the Rockies. However, I want to point out that the job market can be different within any 100-mile radius of where you are standing. Perhaps the districts having the toughest time addressing shortages are rural districts. Suburban districts have the salaries, benefits, and working conditions that teachers may be seeking. Urban districts often have excellent salaries and benefits in order to attract teachers, plus they may have colleges nearby that offer graduate programs, and so on. The rural districts have to compete with those factors. So, geographically, we can look at supply and demand in terms of regions or states, or we can look at it in terms of regions within a state.

Question: Given the critical shortage of teacher-candidates in particular geographical regions of the nation and the oversupply of candidates in other areas, would you consider spearheading the creation of a cutting-edge national computerized system capable of alerting districts and job candidates of where the recruitment needs really exist?

Bryant: Any method to get accurate information out to enhance candidates’ employment possibilities and a county’s chances of filling positions in its schools with qualified, enthusiastic educators gets my vote. There are national Web sites where jobs are posted electronically every day, and I know of a few plans that are being discussed. We know we are on the brink of some critical imbalances, with baby boomers retiring and faster attrition among new educators.

However, even the best information system will not pack a candidate into a U-Haul. National research of Bill Loadman’s that I replicated indicates that over three-fourths of education candidates end up teaching within 50 miles of their high schools, their colleges, or both. Even the most attractive location cannot lure some candidates to move.

Question: As a teacher in a critical-needs field, I have always been offered incentives in the form of money—which isn’t an incentive from my point of view. What advice can you give districts on implementing an effective incentive package to retain and recruit qualified teachers?

Bryant: Certainly salary and benefits are on the top of the agenda for many candidates. But, as you say, it depends on people’s value systems in terms of what will bring them to a position or keep them happily employed there.

Again, from our research, I would say that working conditions should be a major area for a district’s focus: mentoring, support programs, tuition for continuing education, opportunities for involvement and advancement, administrative support for the disciplines, ample resources and materials for classrooms.

If a district is recruiting significantly from outside its city or region, it needs to find ways to quickly assimilate new teachers into community resources such as religious organizations, community groups, or fraternities and sororities, as well as provide information on housing, banks, shopping, and other issues with relocation. It’s daunting to start a new job in a new location, and anything that a district can do to help teachers feel like they belong in their new hometown will be a good thing.

Question: It is already known that in science one of the contributing factors toward shortages is higher pay in other job markets. But what do you see as the impact of expanded responsibilities and certification requirements for teachers?

Bryant: Our research group has been interested in the fact that state and federal mandates have been the lowest-ranked items in the factors affecting supply—meaning that these are two factors negatively impacting the supply of educators coming into the profession. When we discuss what this all means, we do see a disparity between the number of hoops that new educators must jump through in comparison to the rewards if they make it through all those hoops!

That’s not to say that we would ever want to lower standards; high standards are critical to the future of our kids and our society. But I think that having national standards, and then 50 different state interpretations of those standards (plus teacher testing, plus steps to keep and/or advance your license, and so on), does create barriers that can feel like deterrents.

Question: How will the predicted trends in teacher supply and demand affect teacher quality? What can state governments and colleges of education do to improve teacher quality despite these challenges?

Bryant: Some of our human-resources members would say that this is a real Catch-22. They need to find highly qualified educators, and if such candidates do not exist in the discipline they need, they must look to other possibilities to fill the positions. Most states, some colleges, and some school district/college partnerships have developed alternative-licensure programs to speed up the time that it takes for a person who already has a degree to complete courses or become provisionally certified. I understand the plight of a district that desperately needs a teacher, but I’m also a strong advocate of teaching as a profession, and not something that can be quickly learned. There is the art of teaching and the science of teaching.

Colleges of education can continue to look at the numbers of candidates they are producing in certain fields in comparison to the demand for those fields. But it takes time to change programs. States also can conduct supply-and-demand studies to assess what the near future looks like for them and then address those concerns through their legislatures. The state of Washington is one that has done that every two years.

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Read from a complete listing of our Chat Transcript archives.
A version of this article appeared in the May 10, 2006 edition of Education Week as Chat Wrap-Up: Teacher Supply and Demand

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