K-5 teacher overload: Many trained, jobs few

The nation is training twice as many K-5 elementary school teachers as needed each year, while teacher shortages remain in the content specific areas of math, science and special education.

Illinois trained about 10 teachers for every one position available, according to an estimate by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based research and policy group.

In New York, about 6,500 childhood-education specialists were trained in 2010 to fill the projected demand of 2,800 in 2011, according to the state’s education department and labor bureau.

Public elementary schools in Cherry Hill, N.J., average 400 to 600 applicants for one full-time position; the numbers are up to 400 for work as a long-term substitute, said George Guy, the principal for A. Russell Knight Elementary School.

NCTQ President Kate Walsh says the market is “flooded with elementary teachers” because universities and colleges don’t make the effort to match supply and demand as other professions might do. Dean Donald Heller of Michigan State’s College of Education says it is true that MSU does not coordinate with the state regarding how many elementary school teachers are needed. But the school produces teachers for a nationwide market, not specifically for Michigan, he countered.

The National Center for Education Statistics reported there were 1,708,057 elementary school teachers in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, a decrease from 1,774,295 in 2009.

“For those coming out of college, getting a full- time position immediately is not going to happen,” Guy said.

A combination of state budget cuts, hiring freezes and teachers delaying retirement has shrunk the pool of open elementary teacher positions, Guy said. N.J. Republican Gov. Chris Christie slashed $828 million in 2010 for K-12 school funding in an effort to balance the state’s deficit. In Cherry Hill, 70 non-tenured positions were cut; Guy says the district still hasn’t recovered.

The future elementary teacher job outlook may not be as bleak. A 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 17 percent increase in teacher employment from 2010 to 2020, citing higher enrollment and decline in student-teacher ratios. The growth is expected to be concentrated largely in the South and West, the BLS reports.

Though the oversupply of elementary education teachers persists, shortages remain in math, science and special education. Content certification in these low-staffed areas requires additional credits and hours, a discouragement for some to pursue the endorsement, said Doug Peden, the executive director of the Ohio based American Association for Employment in Education.

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