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Pennsylvania teacher shortage is dire according to new report

  • Scott LaMar
Teacher Using Interactive Whiteboard During Lesson Having A Discussion With Students

Teacher Using Interactive Whiteboard During Lesson Having A Discussion With Students

Aired; May 22nd, 2024.


Pennsylvania has a shortage of teachers. More than 2,100 teaching positions were vacant in the state as of October, according to newly released state data — and almost a quarter of those spots were filled not with full-time teachers, but with long-term substitutes.

Some who produced the report called it a crisis.

Dr. Edward Fuller, a Professor of Education in the Education Policy Studies Department at Penn State University worked on the report and was on The Spark Wednesday.

Fuller indicated that not all school districts are having trouble hiring enough teachers. He pointed to Philadelphia and the rural school districts between Harrisburg and State College as areas where the teacher shortage is most pronounced. Fuller said suburban districts, especially in eastern Pennsylvania, are experiencing the shortage as much as some others.

Fuller said the districts having the most critical teacher needs are often the ones that are classified as poorer districts and not getting funding from Harrisburg to meet the needs of their students.

Fuller explained why there are fewer teachers to hire,”The number of people who entered teaching preparation programs fell dramatically across the entire United States from the onset of the recession (in 2008) till about 2016. And then it’s kind of been flat since. But we lost a ton of teachers. Some of that was because a lot of teachers were laid off during the recession. And when you see a profession having layoffs here, it’s not a great choice to go into that profession, right? You wonder, am I even going to get a job, much less how much am I going to make? Teacher pay has been stagnant for much of the last 30 to 40 years. Teachers average teacher pay is essentially the same as it was in 1990 when I was teaching. Once you constant dollars. So, you know, adjusting for inflation and everything. The pay has fallen below some comparable, professions, particularly like nursing. So I looked at I think, 21 labor markets in Pennsylvania and compared beginning nursing salaries to beginning teacher salaries and all but three instances nurses made substantially more, sometimes in the range of $10,000 more per year, which is a lot. And colleges have become increasingly expensive, especially in Pennsylvania, where we have some of the highest tuition rates in the country. So if you’re an 18 year old and you’re deciding, what do I want to be? And if you’re you’re paying attention to the economics of your decision, you’re going to look and go, wow, It’s going to cost a lot. I’m going to come out of college with student debt. I’m going to go into teaching and make between 30 and 50,000 a year beginning where I start, and it’s going to take a long time to pay off my, my student loans…The other part of the the explanation is there’s been, lack of two things, a lack of autonomy by teachers. So, teaching has become increasingly guided by scripted lessons where they tell you exactly what to say, things like that. And, so they have less decision making authority in their classroom. And there’s been lots of attacks on teachers. So going back to even 2008, we had “Race to the Top” under the Obama administration. In the some of the rhetoric around that was like, teachers aren’t very smart. We need to get rid of all the bad ones. There’s lots of bad ones. They need to be fired. We need to replace them with better teachers. And so teachers and teaching really started to be denigrated. And that has continued over time and in recent years. And we’ve just halted. We’ve seen them being called names, really despicable names for no reason. And, and that’s really turned people off as well. And, that has caused, some increased attrition, which makes the shortage worse too, because you have people leaving. We don’t have enough people in teacher preparation programs. If you’re a district, what do you do? You have to hire somebody, right? Either that or make classes really large. So you hire somebody on an emergency permit.”

Fuller was asked if students are impacted by the teacher shortage,”We have research that shows students who are taught by a teacher on an emergency permit, so a long term substitute or series of short term substitutes or somebody who’s working toward a certification and just hasn’t fulfilled all the requirements here. Children taught by those teachers don’t learn as much in the differences pretty large between those children and children who are taught by a fully certified teacher. So, we’re really disadvantaging some students by not addressing this shortage.”

Fuller told us the shortage of special education and English as a Second Language teachers is especially acute.

Fuller talked about some possible solutions,”There’s no silver bullet in education. But, implementing the court’s ruling on school finance (The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the state’s funding formula for education wasn’t providing money equitably and was unconstitutional), reducing the cost of getting a teaching certificate would help, particularly if you’re going to go into special education. Or else we should probably make it free for if you’re going to teach special ed, those things would would help, paying for student teaching so that you don’t have to teach and you have to work for free at a school and then go to your job after to go through student teaching. So fully funding student teacher stipends would work in starting grow your own program. So we increase the supply of teachers, particularly teachers of color, who turn out to be, research finds a little bit more effective than white teachers for most students.”



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