News Column

K-5 Teacher Overload: Too Many Trained, Too Few Jobs

Feb 19, 2013

Emma Beck

The nation is training twice as many elementary school teachers as needed each year, while teacher shortages remain in math, science and special education.

Illinois trained roughly 10 teachers for every one K-5 position available, according to an estimate by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a Washington-based research and policy group.

In New York, about 6,500 childhood education specialists were trained in 2010 to fill the projected demand of 2,800 in 2011, according to the state's education department and labor bureau.

Public elementary schools in Cherry Hill, N.J., average 400 to 600 applicants for one full-time position; the numbers are up to 400 for work as a long-term substitute, said George Guy, the principal for A. Russell Knight Elementary School.

NCTQ President Kate Walsh says the market is "flooded with elementary teachers" because universities and colleges don't make the effort to match supply and demand as other professions might do. Dean Donald Heller of Michigan State's College of Education says it is true that MSU does not coordinate with the state regarding how many elementary school teachers are needed. The school produces teachers for a nationwide market, not specifically for Michigan, he said.

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.

A combination of state budget cuts, hiring freezes and teachers delaying retirement has shrunk the pool of open elementary teacher positions, Guy said. New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie slashed $828 million in 2010 from K-12 school funding in an effort to balance the state's deficit. In Cherry Hill, 70 non-tenured positions were cut; Guy says the district still hasn't recovered.

The future elementary teacher job outlook may not be as bleak. A 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report 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 reported.

Though the oversupply of elementary education teachers persists, some shortages remain. Content certification in the low-staffed areas of math, science and special education requires additional credits and hours, a discouragement for some to pursue the endorsement, said Doug Peden, executive director of the Ohio based American Association for Employment in Education.

The Richland School District Two in Columbia, S.C., has perennial shortages for math, science and special education teachers. "We have been able to fill our vacancies. ... However, each year we must work diligently to find suitable applicants," said Karen Lovett, the school district's executive director of human resources.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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