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From Shortage to Glut
I stumbled upon a Newsweek magazine dated October 2, 2000. The two inch headline posted across the cover posed the question: “Who Will Teach Our Kids?” Written in smaller print underneath: “Half of All Teachers Will Retire By 2010”. Well, well, well. What a difference a decade makes.
“Warning Bell: With a million veterans ready to retire, school districts are sounding the alarms and calling in emergency recruits to lead our classrooms…” This was the picture of public education ten short years ago. Educational experts predicted a dire teacher shortage by the year 2010 due mostly to baby boomers retiring from the profession. The economy was thriving and college grads were being lured into professions more lucrative than education. In 2000, subject areas like math, science and special education were already in crisis mode with a severe shortage of qualified teaching professionals available. In 2005 sixty out of sixty one subject areas were facing teacher shortages across the nation. Today, only math remains the subject still experiencing a shortfall.
In 2000 school districts across the nation were launching incentive programs designed to attract and retain teachers. I was the recipient of one such Teacher Home Buyer Program offered by the city of San Jose, California. The program provided a “silent” loan up to $40,000.00 for the purchase of a home in San Jose if a teacher worked in a San Jose school. Additional real estate programs, tax rebates, housing developments and incentives were developed and offered to educators in Silicon Valley between 2000 and 2006. Other states and cities were offering signing bonuses and stipends for teachers in the highest demand. Some communities offered discounts at local businesses. Teach for America, a program founded in 1990 designed to recruit recent grads from top universities to teach in disadvantaged schools and districts, offered student loan forgiveness to their participants. The push was on to stave off the shortage predicted for 2010. And then, the economy collapsed.
Like dominoes, the banking,housing and mortgage crisis of 2008 set into motion a series of events that resulted in school systems not only escaping a teacher a shortage but in creating a glut instead. As early as 2007 the schools in California started to feel the effects of state budget shortfalls. District budget freezes were established, wages were frozen, and the early rounds of lay-offs began. By 2009 school systems, state educational agencies, technical schools and colleges had shed over 125,000 jobs nationwide. Attrition has been halted due to people holding on to their jobs because of the recession or to retain health care benefits. Recent college graduates who were well advised to follow a career in education just a few short years ago now find themselves unemployable.
Some believed, in 2000, that perhaps the looming teacher shortage would propel much needed educational reform and elevate the status of public educators. The hopes for smaller schools, greater control over their educational environment, on-going professional development and a status upgrade were the components needed to attract and sustain quality educators. Sadly, not only has there not been such reform, but educators have suffered a tremendous loss of professional validation in the last several years with the focus shifting from quality teaching to standardized test scores, furlough days, loss of benefits and reduced wages.
Recently the San Jose Unified School district has launched a worrisome program that may signal the end of public education as we now know it- online high school education. Log in kids and get your cyber-diploma! Though only a pilot program with a handful of students, I can see the district calculating the cost of classroom educators versus designing one on line program. It’s a no brainer. Colleges and universities have been on line for years and their grads are no less legitimate. Unfortunately I believe that the first courses to be eliminated from the classroom and offered on line will be electives- classes where the kids need facilitation the most- art, music, drama.
The predicted teacher shortage of 2010 has not come to pass, but neither has any of the reforms advocated by educational experts back in 2000. Instead we have taken some giant steps back and may be headed in a direction that will eliminate the need for classroom teachers altogether.