Teacher shortages

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I love the Education Intelligence Agency. Click HERE to enter the dimly lit cavernous corridors of the Agency and read the full version of what follows. The topic is teacher shortages, and it is a great concern; but Mike Antonucci (the Education Spymaster) scopes out a brief history of the teacher labor market to ensure that we are thinking about the current shortage without hysteria:

One would think that with all the technological and statistical tools at their disposal, school districts and state agencies would be able to make reasonably accurate predictions of enrollment and, therefore, hiring needs. However, in state after state we are seeing layoffs and marked competition for the job openings that do exist. In Florida, for example, the need for new teachers is about half what it was just two years ago. In the public school labor market, as with many other human endeavors, we often treat the problems of shortages and gluts as if they never existed before.

These problems existed before, and a lot of the same solutions were applied. JSTOR: The Scholarly Journal Archive allows us to take a look at what the best minds in education research thought about problems way back when, and for our purposes JSTOR provides some access to old issues of Educational Research Bulletin.

The bulletin ran an annual feature of investigations of teacher supply and demand… The articles not only furnish information about shortages and gluts of the past, but challenge our current assumptions about their causes.

In the 1940s, it seems the war was the largest factor in the teacher labor market (also click HERE), followed by a shortage in the 50s caused by the baby boom:

The 1953 Bulletin cites this quote from a leading researcher: “This cumulative deficit of qualified teachers stretches back a decade or more and seems destined to worsen as far as we can see into the future. It is like a creeping paralysis!”

By the following year, the problem had grown to the point where it was a subject of an Edward R. Murrow news broadcast: “There are too few teachers, too many teachers who are not fully qualified to teacher, classrooms are too crowded, some schools will be working three shifts, holding classes in cafeterias, churches, synagogues and in at least one case a converted chicken coop.”

By the mid-50s, according to the Bulletin, the crisis abated as instructional staff increased by 55,000 (for 1.2 million new students, a 1:22 ratio). In comparison,

From Fall 2005 to Fall 2006, enrollment increased by 165,037 while instructional staff increased by 65,494. That’s one new instructor for every 2.5 new students.

As Antonucci notes, the good old days weren’t the good old days. And today’s challenge, put in perspective, is nothing to cry crisis about. And especially not, as some of our education leaders might suggest, a reason to relax teaching standards and teacher testing.