• by Albert Cortez, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • August 2001
The supply of elementary and secondary education teachers has grown to an estimated 3.1 million. About 2.66 million are teaching in public schools, and 400,000 are employed at private schools (Yasin, 1999). But, a combination of factors are converging to more than offset this increasing supply and contribute to an overall shortage in teaching personnel needed to fill existing positions (McCreight, 2000).
Some say this shortage may require the hiring of an additional 200,000 teachers over the next decade (Fielder and Haselkorn, 1999). The factors that most impact the need include increasing school enrollments, an emphasis on reducing teacher ratios, and ongoing and, at times, escalating teacher attrition and retirement.
The Growing U.S. Student Population
Although not a universal reality in all states or communities, taken in the aggregate, the total enrollment in U.S. schools has been steadily increasing. According to U.S. Census data, the population increased by 14 million between 1990 and 1995, a 5.6 percent increase in a five-year span. Fueling the growth were increases in birth rates in major sub-groups in the population and ongoing immigration. The number of school-age persons (ages five to 19) increased from 52.9 million in 1990 to 61.2 million in 2000, an increase of 15.7 percent (2000). Demographers project that the school-age population will continue to increase as the children of the “baby boomers,” begin to have children of their own.
Researchers also note that the increases in population reflect significant and accelerating change in the national demographic profile (Murdoch et al., 1997). The U.S. Hispanic population increased by 57.9 percent in just the last decade, growing from 22.4 million in 1990 to 35.3 million in 2000. Another important observation is that the Latino population, which accounts for much of the overall population growth in the country, is a younger population group, with a larger proportion being under the age of 25. This group’s relative youth, in turn, means that more schools will need to be prepared to deal with the increased diversity reflected in the younger portion of the U.S. population.
Though concentrated in five states (California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas), an increasing Hispanic presence can be noted in many parts of the country, including Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Carolina. Many states that had not been as heavily impacted by diversity issues will have to begin dealing with the challenges and opportunities that are presented by a changing population.
Research reflects that the most critical teacher shortages are occurring in states where extensive reforms have created an increased demand for more teaching staff.
Specific areas in the teaching field are accounting for much of the shortage. Shortages are most prevalent in the areas of bilingual education, special education, mathematics, and science – particularly physics and chemistry. Future efforts to address the shortage issue will have to recognize and target the needs identified in critical shortage areas.
Increasing Teacher Retirement and Attrition
The teaching force reflects the national trend – baby boomers are aging and retiring. At times they are spurred by more attractive early retirement opportunities crafted by states, at other times by the pressure inherent in scaling up of school accountability requirements. As more teachers leave the profession, many states are faced with increasing vacancies.
In some states, teacher union efforts to enhance retirement programs can contribute to accelerated retirement. In Texas, recent state reforms that enhanced the retirement program for teachers and administrators resulted in a substantive increase in teacher retirement rates and added fuel to an existing educator shortage.
Exacerbating the shortages is the fact that many states with the greatest growth are failing to produce the numbers of new teachers needed to address student growth and increased retirements. According to Yasin, states such as California, Florida, Nevada, and Texas all require more teachers than they produce (1999). While some states (Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) historically produce an abundance of teachers. Encouraging a major relocation of new teacher graduates to the high-need states poses significant challenges for personnel recruiters.
Research on teacher attrition has long noted that, though many teachers do not remain employed in the teaching profession for more than a few years, reasons they leave the profession can vary. In contrast to previous generations, some may suggest that contemporary younger workers are less likely to remain in the same field for more than a few years, changing careers at substantially greater rates than their parents’ generation.
According to national research data, as many as 50 percent of new teachers leave the field within the first three years of employment.
Other research suggests that work conditions, salaries and the growing diversity in student populations require greater teacher specialization. Traditional teacher preparation programs are often ill-prepared to teach a student population that is increasingly minority, low-income, or with limited English skills. Given limited support to help them better serve such pupils, some teachers opt for other jobs that may be less demanding (Darling-Hammond, 1984).
Shortages seem exacerbated in times of high levels of overall employment, possibly because teachers leave the classroom to pursue more lucrative paying jobs in other sectors. Even in more stable economic times, schools have been challenged in recruiting and retaining needed staff.
Reducing Class Size, Increased Accountability and
Texas and other states have recently adopted extensive reform efforts, including increasing state emphases on uniform curriculum standards and school accountability. In many states that are implementing expanded school accountability and uniform curriculum requirements, teachers have countered with demands that the opportunity to reach higher standards be supported by reductions in average class sizes and other mechanisms to support teachers.
Additionally, pressures associated with these ongoing reform efforts often are perceived as attempts to restrict local school and classroom teacher autonomy. This causes some educators to explore other career options.
Taken together, all of these factors – increasing demands related to diverse student populations, accelerated retirement, and increasing school reforms – have exacerbated the national teacher shortage problems that have long plagued public education.
The Texas Situation
In many ways, the teacher shortages currently being evidenced in Texas reflect the national teacher shortage situation. According to a study commissioned by the state’s education agency, Texas schools reported a need to hire 39,652 teachers in the 2000-01 school year (see table below).
According to the report, the greatest teacher specialty area needs were found in the areas of elementary bilingual education (3,522), secondary mathematics (3,434), secondary special education (2,336), elementary special education (2,591), secondary science (2,286), and secondary-level foreign language (1,022).
Of the number needed, schools reported hiring 38,444 staff, or 97 percent of the total needed. Of greater concern was the fact that of those hired only 28,651 or 75 percent were fully certified to teach in the area to which they were assigned. Looking at it from a student perspective, about 195,860 pupils were being taught by less-than-fully-certified teachers hired in the preceding year (9,793 teachers times 26 pupils per class).
Even more disconcerting are the report’s findings on areas reflecting the greatest shortages and subsequent hiring of less-than-fully-certified personnel. According to the study, 48 percent of elementary school-level bilingual teacher hires and 41 percent of secondary school bilingual/ESL hires were not fully certified to teach in that area. Of all foreign language teachers, 36 percent were not fully certified, and 33 percent of secondary special education and technology teachers hired were not fully certified. Another 30 percent of secondary science teachers were not fully credentialed to teach in the areas assigned.
Faced with the need to place a teacher in additional classrooms and in specialized teaching areas, schools will need to hire less- than-fully-certified staff until the critical shortage issues are comprehensively addressed (Texas A&M Institute for School- University Partnerships, 2000).
Even as states scale-up efforts to produce new teachers, they suffer from ongoing losses to recruiting efforts from neighboring states. A separate study conducted for the Texas Board of Educator Certification examined the number of Texas certified teachers who were employed by schools outside of the state. According to that data, more than 2,400 Texas teachers were working in other states, with the majority employed in adjacent states (1999).
Teachers tended to migrate from states with excess teachers to those areas where local teacher preparation institutions were unable to keep up with demand. A recruiter in San Antonio shared that a local major urban system recruits teachers on an ongoing basis, sending recruiters all over the country to recruit replacement of new teachers to fill its ever present needs (Tobin, 2001).
Because of a growing state awareness of and demand for public school performance and an ongoing effort to reform local schools at the national, state and local levels, the continuing existence of critical teacher shortages creates major challenges for state and local school officials and the communities they serve. Moreover, it has a significant impact on all sectors of the communities, which are all directly are indirectly affected by schools’ success.
Teacher Shortages Impact Reform Efforts
Over the last decade, many states have attempted to adopt polices to make systemic changes in the ways public schools operate. These reforms included changing the ways schools are financed by both increasing the levels of state support and the extent of equity in selected state funding systems.
Often, proposed reforms also involved the adoption of clearly articulated standards for school curricula and the development of accountability systems to allow the general public and state leaders to assess the extent to which schools and students were attaining stated goals.
Central to many of the proposed reforms was the assumption that the staffing needed to implement the reforms at the classroom level would be available and would possess the competencies required to achieve the state’s objectives.
In Texas and other states, these goals included such measures as:
- percentages of students’ passing state-developed assessment measures,
- attendance rates,
- dropout rates,
- numbers of students enrolling in advanced academic courses, and
- numbers of students applying for college admission.
All major reform efforts pre-supposed that teaching staff required to meet those objectives would be in place and would have sufficient support.
As schools strive to meet these targets, it is apparent that it will be difficult to meet, much less maintain, performance levels with a continuing teacher shortage. Some communities may be better positioned to meet the rising expectations in part because they have retained the teaching force needed and have access to the resource supports necessary to meet the state standards.
Data on existing teacher shortages have established that schools in inner cities, those with high concentrations of low-income pupils, and rural communities have a particularly difficult time recruiting and retaining fully-certified teachers (Stevens, 1993).
A different set of factors inhibit inner-city school systems from effectively recruiting and retaining new staff, not the least of which are perceptions that these schools present significantly more challenges than those faced by teachers working in less ethnically and economically diverse suburban areas. Compounding such perceptions is the emerging recognition that many colleges of education fail to adequately prepare new teacher candidates to work with diverse students, instead of continuing to prepare teachers to work with a White, middle-income student population that is no longer the norm in many communities (C?rdenas, 1995).
Faced with major challenges in recruitment and retention, rural and urban centers face an increasing need to recruit new teachers on an ongoing basis, spending disproportionate portions of their budgets in efforts to stay one step ahead of the process. Despite their circumstances, policymakers continue to demand higher levels of performance and accountability from all schools. This is an appropriate stance, though one that must be accompanied by providing whatever resources are required by theses communities to create a playing field that is comparable to their more affluent suburban counterparts.
What Has Been Tried So Far
The issue of teacher shortages is not a new one. In some areas, it is a persistent, unresolved challenge, and in others it is episodic or cyclical. A review of the literature notes that studies of teacher availability and impending or existing shortages date back to at least the 1950s when the children of returning war veterans began to tax the capacities of local schools. In the 1980s, studies of different states described both the extent and types of teacher shortages, as well as state and local efforts to combat the problem (Darling-Hammond, 1984; Clay, 1984).
In attempts to stem the tide of early leavers, states and schools have created support systems to help smooth new teachers’ transitions. Typically these have included mentor-type systems where older, more experienced staff are teamed with new teachers for one or more years (Gonzales and Sosa, 1993).
Other strategies have included increasing teacher salaries or fringe benefits and providing other perks that encourage new entries to stay in the profession for more than a few years.
A more common strategy used in some states involve programs designed to increase the pool of new teachers entering the profession. These have ranged from providing state-funded scholarships to encourage more undergraduates to pursue teaching careers to providing opportunities for education aides, already employed in schools, with funding to encourage them to become fully-certified teachers.
Some schools begin the process with recent graduates in what are referred to as “grow your own” strategies where students are encouraged to and supported in pursuing teaching degrees.
Other more creative approaches include the Intercultural Development Research Association’s (IDRA) Alianza project, which provides opportunities for teachers prepared in other countries to enroll in and graduate from U.S. teacher preparation programs. Alianza is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (Cortez, 2000).
While useful in expanding the existing teacher pool, these strategies are often used as only one portion of a multi-faceted approach to teacher preparation.
One of the more commonly adopted options (often perceived as bold and innovative despite the fact that it dates to the 1960s) is the notion of providing non-education majors an opportunity to adopt new careers in teaching through the use of “alternative certification” programs.
In these programs, adults with previous experience in other fields are encouraged to become teachers, often enrolling in streamlined curricula designed to minimize academic work and expedite their journey into the classroom.
Audiences targeted in these efforts include recent retirees, former members of the military, and professionals working in other areas who are interested in making mid-career changes (Newman and Thomas, 1999). Efforts to adopt large scale alternative teacher education programs are slowed by professional educators’ insistence that such alternative programs reflect some of the same rigor found in regular teacher preparation programs and emerging data suggesting that such efforts may need further refinement (Whiting and Klotz, 1999).
Many of these programs to help reduce existing teacher shortages have succeeded in various settings to varying degrees. If this is the case, why does the issue seem to persist? The reasons vary. But some common themes that may explain the persistence of the problem emerge.
Things to Continue and Expand
One of the observations noted in the data is that while many schools and states do a reasonable job of projecting teachers’ needs, most do not simultaneously and persistently monitor how various strategies may be aligned and coordinated.
Often noted in reviews of these strategies is the fact that there are various distinct and disconnected strategies operating simultaneously in a non-coordinated manner. States may create teacher preparation or recruitment programs at the same time school systems and colleges or universities are operating their own efforts. This lack of coordination may lead to duplication of effort or a failure to address what may be a critical shortage area as multiple programs target the same populations.
A second common theme is the absence of comprehensive evaluations of these efforts. The evaluations should look at the number of staff members produced by a distinct effort, the extent to which the new entrants remain employed in the system, and the success they experience in the school setting.
While a few states have attempted to assess the extent to which alternative certification programs produce well-prepared teachers – as reflected in student outcome data – few programs do the follow-up studies needed to measure the effectiveness of the programs.
Similarly, few states examine the extent of persistence of innovative teacher preparation strategies, leaving the question of whether graduates of such programs leave the profession at levels similar to teachers prepared in conventional college programs.
There are not enough extensive studies on what may be contributing to teacher attrition. While surveys conducted by some teacher organizations ask former members their reasons for leaving the field, these surveys may be impacted by specific issues that the teacher leadership groups are focusing on – including issues of teacher control, salary and benefits – and are reflected in the construction of the survey items.
Also, the research often focuses on specific issues – reasons urban teachers may leave inner-city schools or factors impacting rural schools’ teacher recruitment and retention. Other research provides interesting descriptive data on the attributes of teachers leaving the field but lacks enough extensive useful data that could help guide the development of strategies to decrease teacher attrition levels.
Caution is Important
As schools struggle to find the number and quality of teachers needed to address the instructional needs of an increasingly diverse U.S. student population, there is a tendency for some to settle for placing an adult – albeit a caring and responsible one – in a classroom, with minimal consideration as to whether the individual possesses the skills and attributes needed to ensure success for all students.
In the press to staff the classroom, some may look for the “magic bullet” to alleviate the persistent staffing challenge, opting for approaches that may sound appropriate, but for which evidence of effectiveness is lacking. Emerging research on strategies for accelerating teacher preparation already are suggesting that not all alternative or accelerated programs are equally effective (Newman and Thomas, 1999).
For example, some research on alternative certification programs suggests that these programs have produced mixed results, with some graduates requiring extensive support after entering teaching to produce results comparable to a university-prepared staff person.
In a related study, efforts to improve teacher quality by recruiting graduates with high test scores revealed that good grades did not guarantee development of good teachers. While content knowledge was an important characteristic, other personal qualities were also critical to producing successful outcomes for pupils (Sears et al., 1994).
New Strategies to Consider
The extensive amount of research generated on teacher recruitment, retention and persistence suggests that schools may have already identified some strategies that have proven effective for specific categories of individuals in certain settings.
For most, availability of an adequate salary commensurate with the job requirements and suited to the cost of living in a region is critical. As important as salary, are the nature and quality of working conditions, including the extent of autonomy or opportunity to be creative and or innovative (Clay, 1984).
In rural areas, access to social and community connections may be considered more critical than in urban or suburban areas. For some, access to quality retirement or fringe benefits programs may prove to be essential. Beyond these conventional observations, some communities have begun to look at new strategies for expanding or maintaining the local teaching pool.
One strategy has involved developing locally-based teacher pools by offering financial support or job assurances for local community members or para-professionals to pursue teaching in exchange for a commitment to work in local schools.
IDRA’s Alianza project has worked with universities in Texas and California to design and implement a program that recruits immigrants who were credentialed teachers in their home countries. The project designs accelerated programs that can get these individuals through a university teacher preparation program and produce badly-needed, qualified bilingual and ESL teachers in the participating school districts (Cortez, 2000).
Some school districts have engaged in collaborations where local lending institutions offer housing support through low-cost loans or other subsidies to help supplement local salaries.
In Texas and other states, new strategies have included recruiting individuals entering a post-retirement phase (military retirees) and others interested in making mid-career shifts into education. While offering some promise, emerging data suggests that such new entrants may require specialized support systems to help them make successful transitions into full-time teaching.
Other communities have experimented with providing non-conventional work schedules, allowing new entrants to work on a part-time basis or on a schedule that differs from the conventional schedules found in most local schools.
There seems to be little research on successful teacher recruitment and retention strategies, hindered perhaps by a persistent competition for available staff among many school systems. Even in those cases where some research has been conducted, limited venues exist for sharing these efforts, producing little more than informal networks of educator recruiters that may often be competing for the same small pool.
Texas and other states have convened commissions that have explored ways of increasing the available teacher pool. Often, these groups produce recommendations that truly contribute to increasing the available teacher pool. Their recommendations include suggestions for encouraging more young people to consider teaching as a career, providing scholarships or other forms of financial aid to assist pupils to enroll and remain in teacher preparation programs, and strategies for recruiting outside the conventional labor pools.
Too often however, these innovative efforts do not incorporate adequate research or evaluation designs that allow their proponents to assess the effectiveness of those efforts. Lacking adequate documentation, assessment and feedback mechanisms, innovative programs often operate for a few years and disappear – along with whatever insights or lessons that might have been gleaned from that experience.
Also missing are mechanisms that link many local innovations to universities and state policymaking bodies that might integrate these new strategies into existing teacher preparation programs or support the design of more extensive state-level programs. Lacking the opportunity to “scale-up,” teacher preparation programs have continued to exist in an environment that produces persistent shortages, that seem to persevere despite long-standing efforts to diminish the problem.
Past efforts to develop more coordinated and expanded efforts, informed by past experiences may have been hindered by limited communications technology or other factors beyond the control of local school personnel. New technologies offer great opportunities to design, implement and disseminate new teacher recruitment, preparation and retention strategies that can minimize, if not eliminate, this perpetual educational personnel shortage crisis.
Much of the literature on effective education reform programs concludes with the observation that access to quality teaching personnel is a central element to the success of any individual pupil. Conversely, other innovations, absent a well-prepared teacher, may not produce the results desired. What are needed are more comprehensive, integrated and well-supported strategies that involve the whole community and incorporate mechanisms to monitor the innovations and assess their results. All students and all communities deserve no less than high quality schools, committed to the success of all, not some at the expense of others.
Teacher Demand in Texas
Subject Areas and Levels
Anticipated Number of Teachers Needed
Of the Teachers Hired
Percent of Grand Total
|All Other Elementary Teachers|
|Total All Elementary|
Subject Areas and Levels
Anticipated Number of Teachers Needed
Of the Teachers Hired
Percent of Grand Total
|Total All Elementary|
Source: Teacher Demand Study 2000-2001. Texas A&M University System: Institute for School-University Partnerships. February, 2001.
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Albert Cortez, Ph.D., is the division director of IDRA Institute for Policy and Leadership. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2001, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 2001 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]