Study Says Nation Could Face Teacher Shortage

By Staff
May 22, 2009

A new study indicates that 1.7 million veteran teachers could retire within the next decade, leaving behind a tremendous shortage of educators.

The report was issued by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, a Washington-based education advocacy organization, and it concludes that the country is about to face the largest teacher retirement wave in history. In addition to the more than half of the nation's K-12 teachers who will be eligible for retirement by 2017, the shortage will likely be exacerbated by other educators who are expected to leave the profession for other reasons, and the one-third of new teachers who typically leave within three years of starting.

But compounding the problem, says the study, is the schools' failures to pass on valuable teaching experience to younger educators. "We're going to lose experienced veteran teachers who could act as mentors to the younger teachers," said Elizabeth Foster, NCTAF's director of strategic initiatives, who was quoted in U.S. News & World Report. "These are people who have tried-and-true methods of classroom management. . . . Right now, we have no way of capturing that knowledge and passing it down to the new teachers."

Education experts downplayed the study's dire predictions, noting that less teachers are likely to retire in this difficult economic climate. "The NCTAF claim that in less than 10 years more than half of our current teaching force could be gone is overestimated," said Katherine Merseth, director of the teacher education program at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. "We've heard these clarion calls in the past. It waxes and it wanes."

Indeed, many educators are facing a tough job market now as fewer veteran teachers retire. "We have a lot of teachers close to retirement," remarked Ohio's Defiance City Schools superintendant Mike Struble in "But if the economy stays the way it is and health insurance is an issue, any talk of retirement is put on hold."

Yet the San Diego Union-Tribune reports on an additional factor that could drastically affect a teacher shortage: Due to widespread news of teacher layoffs, the number of teaching credentials issued and students majoring in education have declined significantly.

"The front end of the pipeline is not being loaded because of the public perception that there are no jobs there, that they're laying off teachers and not hiring them," said Chris Reising, who supervises teacher recruitment for the San Diego Office of Education.

Margaret Gaston, executive director of the Center of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning in Santa Cruz, agreed. In the long run, she said, capable teachers will definitely be in demand.

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