A Market for Math Teachers (But Hardly Anybody Else)

By Sean Cavanagh — November 17, 2009 1 min read
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These are tough times to be looking for work as a teacher.

Unless, it seems, you’re hoping to become a math teacher.

That’s the conclusion of a recent report, which finds that nationwide demand for teachers has fallen in all 60 fields examined over the past year. Only one subject area—math teaching—was found to be in “considerable demand,” according to the latest version of an annual report released by the American Association for Employment in Education (subscription required). In recent years, more than a dozen subjects have had serious shortages, but not this year. Interesting that the demand for math teachers outpaces even that of other, traditionally high-need subjects like special education.

Districts are struggling to avoid layoffs and cuts in the dismal economy. And teachers who have jobs, even those who are on the cusp of retirement, are staying put, the report suggests. The job losses have come despite the huge infusion of federal funds around the country. This story in the Associated Press gives the picture on the ground in school systems in Kansas and Texas, where one school district had 5,000 applicants for 300 teaching jobs. Many teachers who were thinking of getting certified in one subject may be going back for more training in others, hoping to bolster their credentials, the story notes.

The report sums up the hiring scene this way:

In 2009, job opportunities for educators dwindled dramatically, reflecting the steepest one-year decline in the past 29 years. This .28 point decline in opportunities coincided with the sharp decline in the U.S. economy. It appears that even with the promise of government stimulus funds and what seems to be an ending of the current economic downturn, education employers have reduced staff and are hesitant to hire in this uncertain market. It also appears that educators nearing retirement are hesitant to retire because of the tenuous nature of future health-care benefits coupled with a significant decline in the value of their retirement nest eggs.
The job prospects for newly graduated and unemployed educators is more challenging and likely will remain in this status until well after an economic recovery. This being said, there are still educator positions available, but perhaps not in the geographic area or desired position type. The high-need areas in special education, math, and some science reflect a lessening demand, but jobs are still available. Significant regional variations are reflected in the data."

All this is not to say that the job market for math and science teachers is going gangbusters. As my colleague Stephen Sawchuk reported recently, there are a lot more applicants, some of them entering the field through alternative certification, and a limited number of positions. One thing that employment reports cannot tell us (at least I haven’t seen it) is what happens to the quality of instruction in a tough economy? If districts can afford to be choosy, and the best candidates are in demand, do test scores and student learning improve? Or would there always too many other factors in play to make a conclusion about that?

What’s the hiring situation like in your state or district, and how are schools of education, and job candidates, responding?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.