Special message from NCTQ President Kate Walsh
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National Council on Teacher Quality

No matter where I go, I keep getting asked if the teacher shortage everyone is talking about is real. Since my answer somewhat bucks what many of you in the press have reported, I thought I might share my perspective.

Nationally, the data are clear that, for the country as a whole, there is not a teacher shortage. That fact does not mean that there are not some school districts which are experiencing real problems. However, the press reports on this topic have been greatly exaggerated and thinly supported—and I would argue at times they have even been irresponsible. 

Why irresponsible? Because even the whiff of a teacher shortage gives teacher prep programs and school districts license to keep or even lower standards for program entry or hiring. 

Even with the normal ebb and flow in the numbers of individuals who enter teacher prep programs (and we are in an ebb), the actual teacher shortage is no different than it was 2, 5, 10, or 15 years ago. By that I mean that all schools, as they have for decades, continue to struggle mightily to find certain kinds of teachers (STEM, ELL, special education). This chronic shortage is the inescapable result of a persistent disregard for how all labor markets have to work: salaries have to rise to attract people who have skills which are marketable elsewhere, to live in an undesirable location or to work in tougher environments. 

These two graphs from economist Dan Goldhaber illustrate the importance of taking the long view.

This first graph does indeed show that the number of new teachers produced since 2008 has declined. But keep in mind that that drop was preceded by a three-decade period of growth, far outpacing the demand year in and year out (as the second graph shows). America's 1,450+ institutions which train teachers have been OVER-enrolling for years (in part because there are simply far too many teacher prep programs.

The current decline is what we normally see when unemployment dips and the pool of folks looking for work isn't as large as in other years. 

And as programs have not traditionally seen it as their responsibility to direct candidates to shortage teaching areas (e.g. special ed), the problem is only aggravated by graduating too many new teachers in certain subject areas. 

Most notably, programs have been routinely graduating twice as many new elementary teachers as public schools hire each year. 

Even when confronted with these facts, many districts have begun to panic. In part they have grown accustomed to dealing with a pretty distorted labor market and the low quality of many teacher candidates. They're used to having to sort through a pile of resumes to find a single good hire. They are not nimble or flexible enough to adapt their recruiting and hiring practices to a tighter job market. 

What is a reasonable response to a downturn in teacher production?  It's not to open the floodgates and let anyone teach. We need to continue to encourage teacher prep programs to become more selective and do a better job preparing new teachers, so that districts don't have to count on 20 resumes to find a single qualified teacher. 

At NCTQ, we continue to encourage states and districts to RAISE, not lower standards for entry into the teaching profession. We encourage districts to tap into the enormous pool of the many hundreds of thousands of people who were certified to teach but never did—neither states nor districts make it easy for those folks to reenter the profession. And we encourage districts to pay teachers in chronic shortage areas or who are willing to teach in really tough locales more than others.

We are thinking about ways NCTQ could be a more useful resource to the public on this issue—such as perhaps serving as a national clearinghouse in which we would collect better teacher supply/demand data. We need timely, state-level data on the number of people who are admitted to teacher prep, graduate, get a license, and then get hired. Only by seeking out this critical information can we accurately keep the public informed about the current state of teacher workforce.  


Kate Walsh
Copyright © 2016 National Council on Teacher Quality, All rights reserved.

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