WASHINGTON (TND) — With the new school year well underway, a nationwide teacher shortage is still threatening the education system and it doesn’t appear that things will be getting better anytime soon.
A National Center for Education Statistics survey that shows more than half of public schools reported being understaffed going into this school year.
Of those schools, the survey found that special education and transportation were the most understaffed positions but there are also shortages in areas like math, science, English and foreign languages.
According to the survey, there were several reasons, like low pay and benefits and a lack of qualified candidates applying. Additionally, increased gun violence and political arguments over what can and can’t be taught have all played a role in the teacher shortage.
There are also not as many people who want to go into teaching.
The number of students planning to major in teaching dropped nearly 11% last year. A report from Education Week that looked into the most recent federal data and found the number students who actually graduate with an education degree have dropped by over a third.
That’s despite the fact that the overall number of bachelor’s degrees has actually increased.
There are simply not enough teachers and it could be an issue for years to come, so about a dozen states have recently changed or are considering changing teacher certification rules.
Some are changing the licensing criteria and lowering the passing score on licensing tests, or dropping the test altogether.
California legislators voted last year to cut two different exams teachers had to take to earn their credentials, while Missouri’s State Board of Education voted to grant teaching certificates to test-takers who barely fail their exam.
In Arizona, the state’s Board of Education allows students who are still earning their degrees to teach as long as they are supervised by a licensed teacher. However, if these students have an emergency teacher certificate — which is issued when a school can’t fill a position — they can teach without supervision.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill in May that removes the requirement for teacher candidates to pass a general education exam. Lawmakers and state officials said this was a good call because the exam was redundant and a financial barrier to future teachers.
The state’s Department of Education is supportive of this policy change and says it could add roughly 550 teachers a year to their workforce.
But there are some concerns about relaxing the certification process. Critics are worried about lowering the standard, especially at a time when schools are working to make up for lost learning during the pandemic.
Dr. Heather Peske, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said that “making it easier to become a teacher is just a short-term solution to these staffing challenges.”
“The last thing that education leaders and policymakers should be considering right now is lowering requirements for teachers. We need teachers who are skilled and knowledgeable, especially now in the wake of the pandemic. So making it easier to become a teacher is just an overly broad short-term solution to staffing challenges,” Peske said. “That basically amounts to policymakers saying, ‘we just need some warm bodies in classrooms.’”
Peske said she believes ultimately it will be harmful to students and added that making it easier to become a teacher will likely result in staff who don’t have the necessary knowledge and will be unsuccessful.
“Ultimately, [they’ll] decide they want to leave the profession, so it will just perpetuate the cycle,” she said.
She recommends a different approach, saying that before making policy decisions, states need to understand their teacher labor market and use their regulatory authority over teacher preparation programs to drive up supply.
“Before states make a bunch of policies without any consideration for the data, they really need to collect and report on the teacher labor market data,” Peske said. “States are the ones that approve teacher preparation programs and they need to ensure that in that approval process, teacher preparation programs are setting out to meet the demand of the local districts.”