Stephen Sawchuk of Education Week has examined the data and concluded that teacher training programs are graduating so many elementary education instructors that it’s projected that they will have trouble landing jobs. This is especially puzzling in light of the real teacher shortages experienced by districts all over the country that these programs seem unwilling or unable to fill.
According to Sawchuk, this imbalance reflects the unwillingness of teaching colleges to take real steps to correct them. In particular, they fail year after year to impose enrollment caps in oversubscribed certification programs that would drive aspiring teachers into fields where their talents are truly needed.
“If you increase the number of elementary teachers beyond what the market will bear, you are going to be forcing far too many trainees into an overburdened K-12 system,” said Arthur McKee, the managing director of teacher-preparation studies at the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality. “We need to have some equilibrium so we can set up strong clinical programs. And everybody wants to do that.”
Also at issue is the fact that caps and similar remedies won’t be effective unless they are coordinated and apply to teaching colleges across the country. However, putting such a plan into action is complicated not just by inter-school rivalries but also by the fact that nationwide shortage numbers – as well as data breakdowns on state-by-state basis – are hard to come by.
Another barrier is ideological and has been haunting the entire higher education sector: how much should colleges and universities consider the needs and requirements of the business sector when they design and implement their educational programs?
“Would we raise this question about English majors? It’s sort of notorious that English majors get jobs waiting tables, … but people still do it because they enjoy it and find it a useful thing to do,” said Jim H. Wyckoff, a professor of education and policy at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. “So I’m a little concerned about treating education differently from other disciplines.”
This treatment is hardly different. When it comes to at least some majors – STEM fields in particular – institutions of higher education seemed to have accepted input from the potential employers of their graduates without much soul searching. This might betray the ethos that four-year degrees are not vocational in nature, but it represents a rather refreshing bow to reality.
Groups such as the National Council on Teacher Quality have advanced one compelling argument for why policymakers should be concerned with supply-and-demand mismatches. If colleges produced fewer elementary-level teachers, the council argues, they could be more selective about whom they admit and give candidates more intensive experiences, including the full year of student-teaching that national organizations for teacher-college accreditation have endorsed.