Teacher Education Programs Produce Too Many K-5 Teachers

USA Today is reporting that while teacher training programs around the country are turning out nearly twice the number of K-5 teachers as the schools need, there continues to be severe shortages in instructors qualified in subject areas like mathematics, science and special education.

This means that a growing number of teachers are entering the job market where they will be competing with from as few as two to as many as 600 other candidates for the same jobs, while schools will continue to struggle to find people to front classrooms teaching subjects that will make the biggest difference to both college preparedness and career readiness.

Kate Walsh, President of the National Council on Teacher Quality, called the situation dire, saying that, “the market is flooded with elementary school teachers.” She said that the teacher training programs are to blame for not taking even rudimentary steps to check that there are jobs available for most of their graduates, creating a substantial mismatch between supply and demand. But the teaching colleges find themselves in a difficult situation as well. While gauging demand in their state is possible, there’s no centralized body that keeps such figures on the national scale. Nor do teaching programs around the country coordinate with each other to make sure that the supply doesn’t overwhelm both local and national job markets.

The National Center for Education Statistics reported there were 1,708,057 elementary school teachers in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, a decrease from 1,774,295 in 2009.

“For those coming out of college, getting a full- time position immediately is not going to happen,” Guy said.

The employment squeeze comes in part from the continuing fallout of the 2008 financial collapse. The falling revenues resulted in state-level budget cuts and K-12 education bore the brunt of the budget decreases. Rather than looking to hire, many elementary schools were actually laying off teachers. Cherry Hill, New Jersey, for example, – where between 400 and 600 teachers compete for every single elementary school opening – cut 70 non-tenured positions since 2010.

The future elementary teacher job outlook may not be as bleak. A 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a 17% increase in teacher employment from 2010 to 2020, citing higher enrollment and decline in student-teacher ratios. The growth is expected to be concentrated largely in the South and West, the BLS reports.

Meanwhile, the situation in math, science and special-ed classes seems to be exactly reversed. Since certification in these areas requires additional work, many aspiring teachers prefer not to pursue it. As a result, almost every school district around the country has openings in these shortage areas and no way to fill them.

Richelle Patterson, senior policy analyst at the National Education Association, says more communication between districts and teacher training programs would go a long way to mitigating the problems of both over- and undersupply of suitable teachers.

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