Issues Challenging Education CLOUDS AND SUN


Help Wanted: One Million+ Good Women and Men  

Jim Veitch, Pi-Kuei Tu, Renee Franklin, and John Pendergrass

The United States will have to replace up to 2 million of its current 2.7 million teachers during the next 10 years (U.S. Department of Education, 1998). New York City will need 30,000 teachers within the next five years, Maryland will need 11,000 within the next two years (Bradley, 1998), and North Carolina will need up to 70,000 within 10 years.

A number of factors combine to create teacher shortages. Too few people are entering teaching. Too many leave. Demographics and state policy decisions contribute to shortages. Teachers now have more career options than ever before. Better salaries in other professions are luring people away from teaching (U.S. Department of Education, 1998; Feldman, 1998). Many teachers have reached retirement age, and almost one-third of teachers has taught for more than 20 years. Close to one million teachers are on the verge of retiring (Riley, 1998). Student enrollments are increasing. Legislators and parents are demanding decreases in class size.

School districts and states are implementing policies to alleviate teacher shortages. Signing bonuses have spread to education, and several states offer them. Other incentives range from contributions to housing subsidies to building and providing teacher housing to calls for income tax reductions (Bradley, 1998).

Such measures, however, simply shift shortages from one school district or state to another. Traditional teacher preparation programs are training more students (WSJ/NCES, 1998), but the teacher shortage remains serious. During the 1990's, only 40,000 of the 100,000 graduates awarded bachelor's degrees in education entered teaching annually (NCES, 1997).

Almost all states have programs that soften certification standards to allow the hiring of technically unqualified teachers "Alternative certification," "alternative licensure," or "lateral entry" certificates often go to individuals who are willing to assume usually undesirable positions. Military personnel, liberal arts graduates, and working professionals often qualify. Estimates are that more than 75,000 persons have been licensed through such programs (National Center for Education Information, 1997; Feistritzer, 1998). For example, seven percent of Arizona's teachers are teaching under emergency licenses (The International Educator, 1998). Various public and private organizations support these state efforts. Programs such as Troops to Teachers, Teach for America, and Recruiting New Teachers, Inc. assist people who wish to make a move into teaching.

More than 12% of all newly hired teachers have no education training. Fifteen percent enter teaching without meeting state standards. More than 50,000 untrained individuals now enter teaching annually (National Commission on Teaching And America's Future, 1996). Almost half of all U.S. teachers are not certified in at least one of the subjects they teach. Forty percent of science teachers and one-third of math teachers neither majored nor minored in their teaching subject area in college (National Center for Policy Analysis, 1997).


Alternative teacher certification draws heavy criticism from educators (Feistritzer, 1998) and is highly controversial (NCEI, 1997: 8). Critics insist that lowering teacher qualifications is not the best way to combat the teacher shortage. Tyndall suggests that some politicians want to loosen certification restrictions to allow more teachers access to alternative certification ("Scholar...," 1998).

State governments may also seek to water down teacher programs in order to hasten teacher preparation time. They could lower admission standards for preparation programs. States could lower test score minimums as they did in the 1980s, relax student teaching requirements, and/or informally encourage student teacher supervisors to minimize the standards for passing.

Some American students learn little in their school courses because they are taught by out-of-field teachers (Ingersoll, 1998). States and school districts are relaxing degree regulations and attempting to ensure a teacher supply on the grounds that having a "body" in the classroom is better than "no body." While there is no guarantee that "in-field" teachers will be effective, having a degree in the subject teaching area should be considered a necessary criterion.

In order to maintain and increase the supply of teachers, states may informally relax requirements that teachers be of good character by forgoing state or FBI fingerprint and criminal history checks. This prospect presents risk because schools might unknowingly hire child molesters and other criminals particularly dangerous to children.

Certified teachers who seek to renew certifications must often take continuing education courses to refresh and update their knowledge. These requirements might be relaxed as a means of inducing some teachers to remain. State laws also often requires applicants to have completed and earned a minimum number of college credits in the subject(s) that they intend to teach. Many local school boards have established additional hiring requirements or restrictions. It is possible that states or school boards that are accustomed to maintaining such additional requirements will eliminate some or all of them.


State policymakers should maintain historical certification standards. We believe that hiring better-qualified and educated teachers is crucial to raising teacher standards and thus the level of education in the country. While alternative routes to teacher certification may be desirable, this is only true when professional standards remain unadulterated and free from assault by policymakers.

States should ensure an increase in teacher salaries. Upgrading the quality of teaching requires upgrading the quality of teachers’ jobs. Well-paid, well-respected occupations that offer good working conditions rarely have difficulties with recruitment or retention (Ingersoll, 1998).  Economic reality demands salary increases as an effective equalizer of supply and demand imbalances. This is the case for human capital just as it is for childrens' toys. In places teacher demand is on the rise, increased salaries can help relieve shortages. Policymakers should view increased salaries as a package that provides monetary returns as well as societal respect for the profession, job security and satisfaction, and personal and professional development. A competitive compensation package for teachers will attract more qualified individuals to the profession.

States should relax citizenship requirements. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled (Ambach v. Norwick, 1979) that states may require citizenship as a condition of teaching, and all states do. Qualified foreign teachers can provide some relief from the U.S. teacher shortage. It is not irrational to seek outstanding foreign teachers, particularly in major areas of shortage. For example, New York City has hired 23 math and science instructors from Austria (Steinberg, 1998) via teleconference and seven Spanish teachers from Spain (Bradley, 1998).

States should relax residency requirements. Individual district and state residency requirements are constitutional (Wardwell v. Board of Education, 1976). We suggest that states and school districts relax residency requirements to increase the supply of teachers. A teacher who lives in a suburb where there are no available positions often works in another field when teaching positions abound in a nearby urban area with a residency requirement. We understand the rationale for residency requirements. On balance, however, states and districts should waive such policies to increase the supply of much-needed teachers.  


Current and future teacher shortages are real. The initiatives we promote will maintain and increase the quality of American public education in the manner that the public expects.


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