How Pa. can address its looming teacher shortage
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.