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Report: Teacher shortage is national crisis

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Report: Teacher shortage is national crisis
By Sarah Plummer Register-Herald Reporter

The need to attract and retain highly qualified teachers is a discussion West Virginia is familiar with, especially with the West Virginia Department of Education reporting more than 600 teacher vacancies statewide.

But West Virginia isn't alone.

In fact, a recent analysis and report by the Learning Policy Institute indicates the United States is short 60,000 teachers — a gap that is expected to expand. If not addressed, the report estimates a shortage of 100,000 teachers by 2018.

The report, "A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand and Shortages in the U.S.," indicates more than 40 states are facing serious teacher shortages in math, science and education to the U.S. Department of Education.

In a press conference Tuesday, lead author of the study Leib Sutcher outlined the reasons for the decline.

Enrollment in teacher prep classes has declined 35 percent since 2009, and newly trained teachers are at a 10-year low.

Not only are there fewer teachers entering the profession, turnover rate for teachers is high, especially those leaving the profession before retirement age, he said.

Turnover is exacerbated when school districts hire untrained teachers to fill the gaps, the analysis found, because these teachers leave at two to three times the rate of those who are prepared. 

Sutcher noted that these shortages mean canceled courses, high student-to-teacher ratios and hiring teachers that are not highly qualified.

"Most teacher turnover is not due to an aging workforce, nor is the problem due to the fact that we aren't producing enough teachers," said Richard Ingersoll, University of Pennsylvania Professor of Education and Sociology. "The largest number of those leaving the profession are pre-retirement. The solution can't simply be recruitment. It also has to be retention."

In addition, he said schools with high numbers of low-income students and minority students tend to have greater vacancies across the United States.

The report states students with a high minority population had four times as many uncertified teachers as low-minority schools in the 2013-2014 school year.

And minority teachers are even more likely to quit or leave the profession early, despite numbers of minority teachers entering the workforce going up significantly. In the last 25 years, the number of minorities entering the teaching profession has more than doubled.

He said the biggest reason teachers say they are leaving, even more than teacher pay, is working conditions.

Their reasons include a lack of autonomy in the classroom and lack of input into decision-making in schools.

"Raising salaries is expensive, but improving some of the working conditions is not," said Ingersoll.

“This research underscores the importance of offering effective incentives to keep our best teachers in the profession, contributing their expertise to support others,” added Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “While the federal government has a role in supporting teacher quality, the real answers will lie with the creative solutions developed by states and districts.”

Learning Policy Institute CEO Linda Darling-Hammond said providing more mentoring for new teachers and protecting teacher planning time would help retention rates.

She also suggested more equitable compensation packages, like providing housing or daycare, in addition to things like forgivable loans and service scholarships also could help attract and retain teachers for high-need fields and locations. Improved support for beginning teachers and career development, coupled with better working conditions in local schools, would reverse the turnover problem.

Creating a system that allows more teachers to retain certification across state lines would improve retention as some states are experiencing a teacher surplus, she said.

Low pay for teachers remains a concern, but West Virginia isn't at the bottom of the barrel.

According to the report, the average starting salary in West Virginia in 2013 was $32,533.

There are 16 states with lower average starting salaries. The lowest starting salary is Montana at $27,272 and South Dakota at $29,851.

The highest salaries are in Washington D.C. at $51,539 and New Jersey at $48,631.

Darling-Hammond said in 30 states, a mid-career teacher heading a family of four would be eligible for social assistance.

The report states that in 2014, 3.45 percent of teachers  were not certified and 10.5 percent were inexperienced in West Virginia.

Only six states and D.C. have more non-certified teachers. D.C. had 17.84 percent, Arizona 5.04, Louisiana 4.33 percent, Florida 4.2 percent, Hawaii 3.58 percent and Virginia 3.52 percent.

According to the report, one out of three teachers in the nation is not fully prepared when they enter the classroom.