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Shortage of teachers linked to declining enrollment in education programs

As the school year begins, a national teacher shortage is causing K-12 districts to become scrambled and job sites to lengthen. The president of the National Education Association called the shortage of teachers a “five-alarm crisis”. Some students return to full-time in-person learning only to find their instructors teaching through screens, often hundreds of miles away. Many teachers are overburdened by large classes and in some cases they teach without a degree. Some districts will start the school year with a four-day week to deal with staffing shortages.

The flow of new teachers through the pipeline has slowed to a trickle, in part due to years of declining education program enrollment. Today, higher education institutions are looking for ways to reverse what has become an alarming national trend.

Between 2008 and 2019, the number of students who completed traditional teacher education programs in the United States fell by more than a third, according to a 2022 report from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. The report found that the steepest declines were in degree programs in areas that needed instructors the most, such as bilingual education, science, math and special education.

Jacqueline King, AACTE’s research, policy and advocacy consultant and co-author of the report, said teacher shortages and declining enrollment in education programs are “certainly correlated”. Both are closely linked to the devaluation of teaching as a profession, she added, epitomized by decades of stagnant wages, heavy workloads and political demonization.

“Teachers’ salaries have remained absolutely stable and the gap between them and other college-educated workers has widened,” she said. “This has contributed, over a long period, to the decline in interest in teaching as a field, both for entry into degree programs and for employment.”

In some states, the drop in enrollment for traditional education programs has been much steeper than the national average of 35%. A 2019 report by the left-leaning Center for American Progress think tank found that from 2010 to 2018, enrollment in education programs fell 60% in Illinois, nearly 70% in Michigan, and 80% in Oklahoma.

Bryan Duke, acting dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies at the University of Central Oklahoma, said that while he thinks the CAP report is exaggerated, institutions in his state have seen a significant drop in enrollment, which he says contributed to the current one. shortage of teachers. More than 3,500 teaching positions in the state were unfilled as of June, according to the Oklahoma Education Association. In January, Oklahoma City University cut its preschool and elementary education programs due to low enrollment.

“When people think about what they study, they have this end goal in mind of what the workforce will be like, and the conditions in our schools have become unappealing to most young students,” said said Duke. “When I started my career 32 years ago, we had 50, 60, 100 applications for each position in schools in the metropolitan area. What we are seeing now is that schools will post positions and not even have a single application.

More incentives, less barriers

To address the problem, teacher education and training programs at colleges and universities are experimenting with an assortment of initiatives, often concurrently.

The programs invest in accelerated pathways to degrees for paraprofessionals already working in schools, scholarships and stipends to bolster student-teacher compensation, and strengthened partnerships with school districts and community colleges to drive interest of potential teacher candidates.

The University of Central Oklahoma College of Education tries all of these measures and more to attract students. Duke said that by increasing outreach to nontraditional students and offering more scholarships, the state is slowly building interest among prospective teachers. Still, the road to recovering pre-recession numbers is a long one.

“We are seeing results,” he said. “But – and this is really sad – we have to measure our success right now not by turning the corner on growth, but by mitigating the decline.”

State policymakers are also exploring ways to reduce barriers for students seeking to enter education programs or qualify for a bachelor’s degree after graduation. In May, Oklahoma scrapped a general proficiency exam for teacher candidates with a bachelor’s degree in any subject. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed legislation in June eliminating the requirement for teacher candidates to pass the Praxis, a pre-vocational skills test that was previously required for obtaining a permit. A similar bill passed the New Jersey state legislature this summer and awaits the governor’s signature.

Proponents of the measures say standardized exams like the Praxis, which tests skills in a range of subjects, including maths and English, are unnecessary barriers to entry into education programs and further education. obtaining a teaching permit.

Exams can be a particularly high hurdle for applicants of color. A 2019 report by the National Council on Teacher Quality found that 43% of applicants of color passed the exam on the first try, compared to 58% of white applicants, and 30% of applicants of color did not retake it. the exam after failing. the first time.

Mark McDermott, associate dean for teacher education and student services at the University of Iowa College of Education, said he seeks to make degrees more accessible to students while ensuring that graduates be ready to go to class.

“It is important to recognize barriers and minimize them where possible. But we think education is really important, and it’s not an easy thing to learn,” he said. “We don’t just prepare teachers to get a license; we prepare them to be retained and to remain in teaching for the longer term.

King said that while exit exams may be too burdensome for applicants, some sort of licensing test should be required to ensure applicants are ready to enter the classroom. But, she added, the case for using entrance exams to gain admission to education programs is less clear.

“Given that we have this shortage, why would you create an additional barrier for students to enter the teacher preparation program?” she says.

“Filling a Leaky Bucket”

Education program managers are even more concerned about other solutions being pursued outside of higher education, especially by state officials desperate to fill teaching vacancies. Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced plans to allow military veterans without college degrees to teach in public schools while they work toward certification. And a new law in Arizona makes current undergraduates eligible to be elementary school teachers.

Christopher Koch, president and CEO of the Council for Accreditation of Educator Readiness, said that shortage or not, these measures are indicative of a broader disrespect for teaching.

“I don’t know why we’re willing to do this for teacher shortages and not for shortages in medical professions or other professions,” he said. “It sends the wrong message about a profession where on the one hand it is said to be one of the most important there is, and on the other it is said that anything goes.”

Henry Tran, co-author of How did we come here? The decadence of the teaching profession (Information Age Publishing, 2022), said the disregard for the difficulty and importance of teaching is what is really at the heart of today’s scarcity – a problem that goes deeper than the solutions of teaching superior cannot reach it.

“There has been a general sense of disrespect for the profession, both at the macro level and at the micro level, which drives people out of the profession and acts as a barrier to entry,” said Tran, who is also a professor of educational leadership and policy. at the University of South Carolina.

This feeling of disrespect has material roots. There has long been a “wage penalty” associated with teaching, compared to professions that require similar levels of education. Adjusted for inflation, the average weekly salary of teachers has increased by just $29 since 1996, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute; in comparison, other college graduates saw an average increase of $445 per week over the same period. Low pay and high stress have led to a resurgence of labor organizing and activism among teachers, including upcoming strikes planned in major districts like Columbus, Ohio and Philadelphia.

Tran said he’s concerned that many of the solutions offered in higher education to the teacher shortage, especially lowering licensing thresholds, as Iowa has done, are “solutions.” makeshifts” that will not produce a sustainable teaching workforce.

“Ninety percent of teacher shortage demand comes from turnover. So when you have all these solutions that lower the standards or aim to bring in new people, my question is, what’s going to keep them from leaving like the last batch? ” he said. “You basically have a leaky bucket that you’re constantly trying to fill. At some point, you run out of water to refill the bucket.

King agreed that retention is a major cause of the teacher shortage. She said however successful teacher education programs are in increasing enrolment, it will be insufficient unless wages and working conditions improve.

“We’re not just going to recruit to get out of this problem,” she said. “It has to be a two-pronged approach.”

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