Editorial, Opinion

EDIT: Too many elementary school teachers, not enough jobs

The United States is educating and training twice as many K-5 elementary school teachers as is actually needed by the country each year, USA Today reported Tuesday. Meanwhile, teacher shortages remain in the content-specific areas of math, science and special education.

Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said colleges and universities are not making the necessary effort to match supply and demand, according to USA Today. Budget cuts — of which there are many recently — hiring hiatuses and postponed retirements are also contributing to the problem. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were about 1,708,057 elementary school teacher positions available in 2010, as compared to 1,774,295 in 2009, and that number is subject to continued decrease.

The future of elementary teacher job outlook may not be quite as bleak, though. A 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics report estimated a 17-percent increase in teacher employment from 2010 to 2020, pointing to higher enrollment and a continued decline in student-teacher ratios, according to USA Today. The issue that was not mentioned in the report was the reason for the current surplus, nor did it discuss why there continues to be a shortage in teachers who specialize in math, science and special education.

The report should serve as an indication for colleges and universities that it’s time to reassess the way in which prospective teachers are educated, i.e. if they should aim to specialize in certain subjects, or pre-determine where need exists in the teacher employment market and study accordingly. Graduating students of elementary education need to be qualified to teach a number of subjects and need to be flexible to school needs. In addition, colleges and universities need to examine why there is such a surplus. It’s possible that they are admitting too many students, some of whom apply for passion for teaching, others for benefits like long vacations, stable hours, pensions and funded education costs. Perhaps universities, which in the past have granted elementary education students enormous benefits for entering a field in need of driven and qualified individuals, need to cap their benefit system, thereby encouraging those not serious about the job to go elsewhere. Otherwise, school systems both public and private will need to find a way to accommodate large numbers of teachers.

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