Teacher Preparation

Colleges Seeking Teacher-Educators

By Julie Blair — March 21, 2001 11 min read
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George Mason University is the kind of place that is easy to sell to prospective professors.

Salaries are competitive with those of other large schools, and the university’s location—in Fairfax, Va., a suburb of the nation’s capital—is ideal for academics interested in partnering with the federal government or with researchers who work in the nearby science and technology corridors. Many of George Mason’s programs are not only thriving but are considered innovative, including its school of education, which was ranked among the nation’s top 50 this year by U.S. News & World Report.

But Martin E. Ford, the acting dean of the education school, is having a hard time hiring qualified educators to train future K-12 teachers. He’s got 10 vacancies to fill this year and, so far, fewer than 10 candidates per opening.

“The current applicant pool is about half the size it was in the mid-1990s,” Mr. Ford said. “It used to be that we would get, say, 40 or 100 applicants for a full- time faculty position. Now, we’re more likely to get between 15 and 40 people. It is a bit nerve-racking.”

Stories similar to Mr. Ford’s are surfacing at schools of education around the country. As educators and policymakers turn their attention to widespread shortages of teachers for precollegiate classrooms, experts say few are recognizing a similar and perhaps more disturbing trend: the dwindling supply of teacher-educators.

“The shortage is significant as shown by the number of searches that go unfilled ... and by the inadequate pool of candidates,” said David G. Imig, the president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a membership organization that represents 735 institutions.

Without an adequate supply of teacher-educators, colleges will be able to keep open fewer sections of course offerings, Mr. Imig warned. That could mean that fewer K-12 teachers will be trained overall, exacerbating school districts’ own current and impending shortages.

Failed Searches

No one knows for sure when the teacher-educator shortage began.

Mr. Imig said he first noted it about five years ago while talking to the dean of the education school at Indiana University Bloomington about that institution’s challenges in hiring faculty members.

“Indiana University was looking for a social studies teacher-educator, and it shocked me because Indiana has always been known as the home of social studies education,” Mr. Imig said. “If they didn’t have adequate numbers, well, it stunned me.”

More worrisome stories from deans around the country were forthcoming, so Mr. Imig’s association commissioned researchers to study the problem. The result was a paper presented last spring at the AACTE’s annual meeting. The work is believed to be the lone report on the teacher-educator shortage to date.

To determine how far-reaching the problem had become, the study analyzed data produced during the past three academic years from more than 400 small, medium, and large public and private colleges and universities with teacher-preparation programs.

“We had received a lot of anecdotal evidence from deans saying, ‘We’re not getting anyone to apply for our jobs,’” said Richard Arends, a co-author of the report and a professor of educational leadership at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. “Essentially, [the study] confirmed what I think people believed. In many, many fields, we were getting less than 10 applicants per each job opening. Thirty percent of searches were unsuccessful—that’s a very, very high rate,” he said.

The greatest number of failed searches and small applicant pools were for faculty members in mathematics, reading, business, library media, and early-childhood, elementary, vocational, and special education, the study found. Colleges had less trouble hiring faculty members with specialties in education policy, English/language arts, and school psychology; however, a significant number of those searches failed as well.

Surprisingly, the teacher-educator shortage was visible across the board, Mr. Arends said. Public and private colleges and universities of all sizes had an equally difficult time hiring qualified professors.

“A lot of people thought that the big research institutions would have a simpler time recruiting faculty than, say, liberal arts schools, but we didn’t find any difference,” Mr. Arends said.

The survey showed the number of vacancies for teacher-educators rose by 34 percent between the 1997-98 and 1998-99 academic years alone, up from 1,268 available positions to 1,700.

What’s more, it is likely that the teacher-educator shortage has worsened since the study was completed, Mr. Arends said.

The shortage sneaked up on many officials in higher education, in part because the job of college professor had appeared to hold great appeal regardless of the field, according to the AACTE report.

As recently as the mid-1990s, several major studies indicated that hiring for academic posts was highly competitive, with literally hundreds of candidates vying for each opening.

But few, if any, of the researchers on academic hiring specifically studied the field of education, the report says.

Higher Expectations

It isn’t that there aren’t enough people who hold doctorates in education—it’s simply that they’re not choosing to go into teaching college, experts say.

The number of conferred doctorates in education has been fairly consistent over the past decade, according to the Digest of Education Statistics, produced by the National Center for Education Statistics, the arm of the U.S. Department of Education that collects such data. During the 1997-98 academic year, for example, 6,729 degrees were awarded.

In many cases, academe undoubtedly is losing out to corporate employers who can offer higher pay. But jobs in K-12 schools may also offer greater financial rewards.

Beginning teachers, who aren’t required to have advanced degrees, earned an average of $27,700 during the 1999-2000 school year, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

By comparison, beginning teacher-educators make an average of just $24,380 annually, according to a study released this year by the Association of Colleges and Schools of Education in State Universities and Land Grant Colleges and Affiliate Private Universities, based in Athens, Ga.

Just as the pipeline of teacher-educators has begun to narrow, schools of education have experienced “tremendous growth” over the past few years, strengthening the demand for faculty members, said Frank B. Murray, a professor of education and psychology at the University of Delaware in Newark and the president of the Washington-based Teacher Education Accreditation Council. TEAC accredits teacher-preparation programs at 65 colleges and universities.

The number of bachelor’s degrees earned in education grew by about 17 percent between the 1986-87 and 1996-97, the Digest of Education Statistics shows. During the 1986-87 academic year, 86,936 degrees were awarded. A decade later, 105,233 were conferred.

The problems in attracting enough teacher-educators are also compounded by new, higher expectations for schools of education, said Virginia Richardson, a professor of education at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Such changes are a reaction to the pressures that state and federal policymakers are putting on those schools to satisfy accountability measures, as well as institutions’ own recognition that they need to attract higher- achieving recruits and prepare them better.

In addition to requiring teacher- educator candidates to complete more meaningful research, institutions have recently begun placing importance on their teaching in K-12 classrooms as well as at the college level, Ms. Richardson said. Ideal teacher-educator candidates work in precollegiate schools while training future teachers, she added.

“We need people who understand inquiry and research as well as practice,” Ms. Richardson said. “In the past, it was just a matter of having a Ph.D.”

Those tougher standards, however important, mean institutions have even fewer choices when it comes time to hire faculty members, she said.

“This is the beginning of a nightmare,” Gerry Giordano, the dean of the college of education at Utah State University in Logan, said of teacher-educator shortages. “Given the number of persons who are retiring, the [small] number of people attracted to careers in higher education, and the competition from industry and [precollegiate] public education, there is no immediate solution for this problem. That’s just a reality.”

Incentives Offered

Despite that dire outlook, administrators at Utah State are attempting to keep the university competitive by employing new strategies to recruit and retain teacher-educators.

The university, the state’s largest producer of teachers and one of the biggest in the nation, is seeking to hire eight professors this spring to join a faculty that already numbers more than 460 teacher- educators.

The college of education hiked beginning salaries across all disciplines from $32,000 to $40,000 between the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 school years, Mr. Giordano said. Teacher-educators whose specialities are in such shortage areas as mathematics, technology, and special education can earn up to $52,000 as assistant professors.

The institution is also offering a variety of bonuses to entice candidates, Mr. Giordano said. Some professors are offered cash bonuses of, say, $10,000 and moving expenses, or are promised summer work to raise their pay.

Such increases are helping to attract new talent, but the new incentives are also proving to be politically divisive, Mr. Giordano said. “This really undermines the morale of senior professors, who feel they deserve to be treated with the same largess,” he said.

Utah State is also considering a policy in which candidates would be identified long before they were awarded their doctorates, he added. Faculty members would sign on with the institution and work in adjunct positions until they completed their Ph.Ds. If new hires met expectations within the first few semesters, the university would guarantee them tenure—several years before it is currently offered, Mr. Giordano said.

In Starkville, Miss., meanwhile, Mississippi State University for the first time dispatched education school recruiters to top Ph.D. programs around the country in an attempt to track down doctoral candidates to fill 18 vacancies, said William H. Graves, the dean of the college of education. Generally, faculty positions are listed in trade publications or are publicized by word of mouth.

“We’ve moved from a passive form of recruiting to an aggressive one,” Mr. Graves said. And yet, he said, such tactics “didn’t yield a single application.”

Mississippi State has had more luck hiring when providing incentives, he said. MSU now offers many teacher-educators start-up funding for research projects, money for housing, and a reduction in their teaching loads.

If the university can’t fill positions, administrators will continue to rely on the “teachers in residence” program started in the fall of 1999, Mr. Graves said. The school began hiring K-12 teachers who have completed master’s degrees to work as adjunct faculty members under the tutelage of full- time professors, he said.

The program is providing experienced, capable teacher-educators, Mr. Graves said, but it is not a long-term solution. High- quality schools of education must provide students with seasoned professors who can teach students how to conduct research, among other skills, he said.

Administrators at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., have turned to the same solution. “We went a year without a full-time professor by hiring a highly qualified K-12 teacher who was able to take the year off” from her school position, said Michael A. Miller, the chairman of the education department and the associate dean for assessment at the college.

Though the teacher had earned a master’s degree and had worked as a K-12 curriculum director, she wasn’t considered for the permanent position because she didn’t hold a Ph.D., Mr. Miller said.

“Even if she did, it would have meant a significant pay decrease,” he said.

‘Outside of the Box’

Given the shortage of teachers in both colleges and K-12 schools, administrators at all levels of learning will need to think differently about how they train, recruit, and retain talented people, said Barnett Berry, the director of policy and state partnerships for the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future, a privately organized, blue-ribbon panel made up of public officials, business and community leaders, and educators, housed at Columbia University.

“This is a terrific opportunity to get outside of the box,” Mr. Berry said. “We could have joint appointments and place more and more teacher- educators and methods courses inside of real schools where real children are taught.”

Many schools of education have already adopted such an approach, called the professional-development model, and are preparing teachers “very effectively,” said C. Emily Feistritzer, the president of the National Center for Education Information, a private research group based in Washington.

“The best teacher preparation is done when the local school personnel and college and university personnel collaborate actively,” she said. Ms. Feistritzer also suggests that schools of education look to their institutions’ arts and sciences faculties. Such professors provide much of the schooling for teachers and could possibly do more.

In the meantime, Mr. Graves, the Mississippi State dean, is continuing the search for teacher-educators. He reminds prospective faculty members of the intangible perquisites that are all too often overshadowed by the prospect of modest paychecks when shopping for work.

“You have an opportunity to engage in learning as part of professional development, engage in research, and teach bright young men and women who will challenge you and help you grow as a person,” Mr. Graves said.

That, he said, elevates the position from a job into a passion—a benefit that can’t be matched by many corporations.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2001 edition of Education Week as Colleges Seeking Teacher-Educators


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