The Price of the State Teacher Shortage

The steep downward trajectory of state funding for public education may not matter very soon. California is losing teachers so quickly that there may not be enough regardless of how much (or little) the state spends.

The latest indication of this looming disaster comes from the not-for-profit Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, which reports that the number of teachers in California contracted from 310,000 in 2008 to 300,000 in 2010. These figures correspond with the steep decline in state funding, which has led to fewer teachers and larger classrooms--so much so that California now has the highest student-to-teacher ratio in the nation.

Meanwhile, if current trends are any indication, California will have even fewer teachers in the coming years. Whereas
75,000 students were enrolled in teacher education programs in 2002, the number dropped to 45,000 in 2008. Of this number,
a portion will drop out or find other jobs, reducing the size of the new teacher pool. At the same time, nearly 100,000 teachers are 51 years of age or older, with many set to retire in the near future. 

Why the decline?

Several factors have combined to make the teaching profession downright undesirable in recent years, among them:

--Job insecurity: In recent years, declining state support has forced school districts to lay off thousands of teachers and
not hire others. New teachers see no long-term future.

--Teacher pay: The average teacher in California starts out at $35,700 annually after 5-6 years of university education. While this is the ninth highest in the nation, let's remember that the classroom size is the highest in the nation, not to mention the high cost of living in California.

--Burgeoning requirements and less instruction time: New state and national laws have increased standardized testing requirements; at the same time, California's minimum number of school days per year have shrunk from 190 to 175 (and 170 in
some counties).

Add these data to a recent international study showing that the United States now ranks far from the top in education accomplishment among the world's most industrialized nations and the future is not very bright for our teachers or students.

California may be saving funds in the current state budget crisis by short changing the schools, but our policies also point to long lasting effects. Without enough teachers, our public education system will wither away from neglect.


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