Recession may be escalating coming teacher shortage

Less than two years have passed since demographic trends touched off fears of teacher shortage in California occurring when an expected spike in educator retirements would meet growing student populations and a drop off in new recruits entering the profession.

Those trends now appear to be easing in the short-term, but a longer perspective suggests the conditions may actually be escalating due to the influence of the ongoing economic recession.

According to a report to be delivered today to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the number of new students entering teacher training programs in California has not just declined – it has plummeted 39 percent over the past five years.

Meanwhile, the latest population projections show that despite the state’s economic downturn – overall enrollment in public schools is still expected to climb by 200,000 students through 2019.

Adding uncertainty to the mix are the 100,000 or so California teachers that are age 50 or older – the first cohort of which was expected to have retired by now but anecdotal evidence suggests that might not be happening.

Local reports indicate that many veteran teachers are putting off retirement. Many are dealing with lost jobs among family members; others with the plunge in real estate nest eggs; some may even face layoffs themselves.

For the short-term, analysts say, there would seem to be little concern about a teacher shortage.

But the bigger question is what happens the moment the economy turns around and a surge of retirements hit just as demand for new teachers starts to spike.

The fact is, however, no one is quite sure what to expect.

Patrick Shields, a researcher whose work in early 2010 raised concerns about the status of teacher preparation, said under normal economic conditions there would be an expectation of a teacher shortage.

“We would expect to see a shortage because fewer teachers are entering the profession while the number of students is increasing,” said Shields, director of the Center for Education Policy and Program Manager for School Reform at SRI International, a think tank based in Menlo Park.

“However, in the current fiscal climate, districts are not hiring new teachers but rather allowing class sizes to grow,” he explained. “Consequently, in the short term over the next year or so, we do not expect to see much in terms of a shortage.”

“What will happen after that, we really don’t know,” he said.

The report scheduled to be made before the CTC today notes that California’s teacher preparation program had grown significantly over the past 20 years to accommodate a spike in student population during the early 1990s and more recently the move to reduce class sizes.

The past five years has been a different story as enrollment has declined by nearly 24,000 candidates or 39 percent. In just the two year period ending in 2009-10, the number of participants in teacher training has dropped over 13 percent.

Marilyn Errett, an administrator with the CTC’s government relations office, said the array of economic and demographic conditions makes it difficult to plan for the coming need for California schools.

“Several years ago researchers were predicting a teacher shortage, no one knew, of course, that there was going to be an economic meltdown,” she said. “Things are very unpredictable.”

An answer to the question of teacher supply and demand is critical. Satisfying a sudden demand for qualified classroom teachers is not something quickly resolved. It took the state years, for instance, to respond to an almost overnight need for teachers when the class-size reduction program began in the late 1990s.

And trying to prepare now is probably not an option.

“It’s very difficult to boost a program when you can’t guarantee that someone’s going to have a job or that they won’t be laid off,” Errett said.

To read the CTC report on teacher preparation click here:

Ed’s Note: Cabinet Report’s Mary Gardner and Kim Beltran contributed to this article.  Cabinet Report is the only comprehensive news service covering K-12 education issues in California. To subscribe visit Registration required. Selected stories have been shared with Capitol Weekly with permission from School Innovations & Advocacy, owner and publisher. To contact reporter Tom Chorneau:

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