How Pa. can ad­dress its loom­ing teacher short­age

The Morning Call - - TOWN SQUARE - Ti­mothy P. Wil­liams is a Free­dom High School grad­u­ate and the su­per­in­ten­dent of the York Sub­ur­ban School District.

If you have young chil­dren or are think­ing about start­ing a fam­ily, or if your own chil­dren are start­ing fam­i­lies of their own, you should be very con­cerned. If you have no school-aged chil­dren and So­cial Se­cu­rity is in your fu­ture, you should also be very con­cerned.

Penn­syl­va­nia is facing a cri­sis it has not faced in decades: highly qual­i­fied class­room teach­ers are be­com­ing scarce.

As the num­ber of ap­pli­cants for teach­ing po­si­tions con­tin­ues to de- cline, schools con- sider them­selves for­tu­nate if they have one or two ap­pli­cants for cer­tain po­si­tions. Data re­cently re­leased by the Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion points to the rea­son why school dis­tricts are find­ing it chal­leng­ing to draw qual­i­fied, let alone cer­ti­fied, can­di­dates for their va­cant po­si­tions. The agency’s data shows a dis­turb­ing de­cline in the num­ber of college grad­u­ates earn­ing teach­ing cer­tifi­cates. The down­ward trend is trou­bling for the fu­ture of the state and the na­tion.

Penn­syl­va­nia, once a net ex­porter of cer­ti­fied teach­ers, is quickly en­ter­ing an era where we will need to im­port teach­ers to meet cur­rent and fu­ture needs. The state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion re­ports that 21,045 teach­ing cer­tifi­cates were is­sued dur­ing the 2010-11 aca­demic year. That num­ber fell dra­mat­i­cally to 7,970 over an eight-year pe­riod end­ing in 2017-18, the most re­cently re­ported year. That marks more than a 62% de­cline in just eight years.

While the num­ber of college grad­u­ates in all cer­ti­fi­ca­tion ar­eas is de­clin­ing, some dis­ci­plines are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dra­mat­i­cally sharp de­clines. In an age when pun­dits de­clare that we should be plac­ing a greater em­pha­sis on de­liv­er­ing sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math to our pub­lic school stu­dents, we are see­ing a sharp de­cline in the num­ber of college grad­u­ates qual­i­fied to teach those sub­jects.

The num­bers of college grad­u­ates cer­ti­fied in math, physics, bi­ol­ogy and tech­nol­ogy ed­u­ca­tion have dropped 74%, 51%, 63%, and 91%, re­spec­tively, over the last eight years. Non­science ar­eas have also been af­fected. Busi­ness and com­puter in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy cer­tifi­cates, for ex­am­ple, have dropped 88%. Even tra­di­tion­ally plen­ti­ful sub­ject ar­eas such as mu­sic, art, so­cial stud­ies and English have seen de­clines of 56%, 77%, 67%, and 59%, re­spec­tively. Ev­ery com­monly em­ployed cer­ti­fi­ca­tion area has ex­pe­ri­enced a de­cline; even the boun­teous pre-K to fourth grade cer­ti­fi­ca­tion dropped by a third over the last four years.

If those per­cent­ages do not raise con­cern, con­sider this — in all of Penn­syl­va­nia, there were seven peo­ple who grad­u­ated with a tech­nol­ogy ed­u­ca­tion cer­tifi­cate dur­ing the 2017-18 school year. Yes, seven. Th­ese are the peo­ple who teach tech­nol­ogy and en­gi­neer­ing ed­u­ca­tion cour­ses in our pub­lic schools.

What has prompted fewer college stu­dents to pur­sue teach­ing cer­tifi­cates?

Per­haps they be­lieve there is a de­clin­ing rev­er­ence for pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, or maybe they be­lieve the pay is too low. State law re­quires a start­ing teach­ing salary of $18,500, which has been the case since the 1980s. There are some places in Penn­syl­va­nia where teach­ers still make close to those 1980s wages. Cer­tainly, that is not the case in the Le­high Val­ley. We should, how­ever, be con­cerned that the state-man­dated start­ing wage has not changed since the 1980s.

Rais­ing the min­i­mum teach­ing salary to $45,000, as re­cently pro­posed by Gov. Tom Wolf, likely would make it more en­tic­ing for college stu­dents to en­ter the field of ed­u­ca­tion, thereby min­i­miz­ing the teacher short­age. More cer­ti­fied teacher grad­u­ates would mean more can­di­dates avail­able to pub­lic schools, al­low­ing the schools in the Le­high Val­ley to have a broader pool of can­di­dates from which to hire.

What­ever the rea­son for the de­clin­ing in­ter­est in teach­ing ca­reers, we must re­verse the trend now be­fore it is too late. We must en­tice more peo­ple to en­ter the pro­fes­sion that spawns all other pro­fes­sions. The fu­ture of our na­tion de­pends upon it. Amer­ica re­lies on an ed­u­cated pop­u­lace en­gaged in mean­ing­ful liveli­hoods, which in turn funds So­cial Se­cu­rity for older gen­er­a­tions.

In­creas­ing the min­i­mum teach­ing salary would be a solid first step in demon­strat­ing to po­ten­tial teach­ers that we value ed­u­ca­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia. Do­ing so would pro­vide a stim­u­lus to head off the loom­ing teacher short­age.

Al­ter­na­tively, we can al­low the mar­ket­place to dic­tate higher wages. By then, how­ever, it may be too late.


Chem­istry teacher Donna Gre­cian helps Chelsea Zu­cal on July 22 dur­ing an AP Boot Camp hosted by Al­len­town School District. The AP Chem­istry camp pre­pares stu­dents for the first few weeks of the ad­vanced place­ment class. State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion statis­tics show there has been a drop in the num­ber of college stu­dents seek­ing teach­ing cer­tifi­cates es­pe­cially in the tech­ni­cal fields.

Ti­mothy Wil­liams

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