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Report raises questions about whether teacher shortage is real

By Ty Tagami

Georgia teacher prep colleges were reporting fewer students a couple of years ago. As if to confirm a crisis, metro Atlanta school districts started the school year with vacancies.

Couple similar situations in other states with national trend lines showing high school students disinterested in a teaching career, and the alarms started ringing for school administrators.

Eleven states, Georgia not among them, assembled task forces to examine the teacher pipeline, and a new report from the Education Commission of the States provides the details about their findings. It also says the alarm bells may be ringing a little too loudly.

"There is no doubt teacher shortages have plagued the minds of education leaders across the states," says the report, "Teacher Shortages: What We Know." Yet teacher turnover has been "fairly stable" over the past decade and schools have lower vacancy rates now than in 2000. "To date, evidence is insufficient to support claims of an increasing teacher shortage on a national level," says the commission, which was founded decades ago by an interstate compact approved by Congress.

Teacher turnover and surveys about the declining desirability of the profession have become data points for lively policy discussions. Last year, Gov. Nathan Deal's Education Reform Commission had a whole committee devoted to teacher recruitment and retention. Last week, Deal signed Senate Bill 364, which backed off the use of student test results to score teachers, something teachers have been complaining about for years.

Nationally, enrollment in teacher prep programs declined by about a third from 2008-09 to 2013-14, according to the report. "Of those who do enter the profession, many go on to report overall job dissatisfaction, a loss of autonomy, and limitations in feedback, recognition, advancement and reward."

So is there a shortage or isn't there? Well, that depends in part on where you are. The commission didn't look at individual states but notes that state policies can drive localized teacher shortages. They are also more likely in difficult schools in unsafe neighborhoods or in tough subjects like math or science.

The report offers the ideas that other states developed to address the looming shortage, if it is indeed coming.

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About the Author

Ty Tagami writes about K-12 education, focusing on statewide issues.