There is a teacher shortage in the United States, and it’s leading to a decline in the quality of education students are receiving, as well as putting burdens on those who work with children. This is an issue that perpetuates itself, and if left unchecked, will have rippling impacts throughout the economy.
School districts are having significant difficulties handling this situation, leading them to hire long-term substitutes to fill in where full-time, credentialed teachers cannot be found. According to a San Francisco Chronicle article from the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year,
“A growing teacher shortage has left district officials across the region and the state scrambling to fill classrooms, with critical shortages in science, math, special education and bilingual education. Many parents will find a substitute teacher, or even a credentialed central office staffer, leading their children’s classes on the first day.”
This issue is ongoing, and by February of 2016, the repercussions have become apparent. From the Sacramento Bee, “With fewer fully credentialed teachers available to take over classrooms, the number of teachers hired on substandard permits and credentials has nearly doubled.” These provisional and short-term permits grant a person the ability to teach in a classroom for a maximum of sixty days before they must be re-assigned to another classroom, and they often lack the training to teach the subject to which they are assigned. This leads to a substandard quality of education for young students, who not only have to deal with growing class sizes due to the lack of teachers, but whom will only just have become comfortable with a teacher before it’s time for that teacher to be replaced with yet another unqualified instructor.
The lack of qualified teachers echoes throughout school districts, where Human Resource departments scramble to fill open special education positions, a case especially prominent in special education, where the demand for qualified special education teachers far exceeds the supply. According to a report by the Learning Policy Institute, “districts estimated their hiring needs at roughly 4,500 special education teachers in 2014–15, only about 2,200 fully prepared new special education teachers emerged from California’s universities in that year.” This puts pressure on those who work in education, who are now working with people who have insufficient knowledge of special educational codes and laws, legal timelines, and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). This leads to parents becoming upset that their children’s needs aren’t being met, which leads to costly lawsuits, further preventing districts from hiring the qualified individuals needed to pull them out of the quagmire that is the current situation in public education.
There are real economic impacts to children receiving sub-par education, from everything such as a loss in future revenue for individual students, to a loss in yearly GDP on the order of trillions of dollars. The term economic death spiral may sound hyperbolic, but it’s true—the continued loss of teachers and qualified school professionals makes what was a bad situation even worse, as parents begin to seek alternatives such as private, magnet, and charter schools (an issue I plan on going into in further detail in a later post). This leaves public schools to those who cannot afford the alternative, creating a further disparity between those who have and those who don’t, something that education, “the great equalizer,” is supposed to prevent. This cycle needs to be broken, but the question is, how to be do that? In order to answer that, we must first examine the causes of this issue.