In the last five years, the demand for new teachers in Washington’s elementary, middle and high-schools increased by 250 percent.
Principals struggle to staff their schools — especially in rural and high-poverty areas — and the state is not alone, according to a new report from the National School Boards Association.
While research shows that there is little evidence of a nationwide teacher shortage, those averages can hide important differences at the district and state levels, and by specialty (special education teachers, for example, are often in short supply).
The report looks at possible reasons affecting the supply of teachers: reduced enrollment in teacher preparation programs, low starting salaries, better opportunities outside education (especially for science and math specialists), and a perceived lack of respect for teaching as a profession.
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New emphasis on smaller class sizes and higher graduation requirements also may be adding to the problem, since they require districts to hire more teachers than ever.
The report only briefly mentions Washington, but the Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) says the teacher shortage in this state is driven by a sharp increase of experienced teachers leaving the profession.
Six years ago, even the most qualified graduates were having trouble finding a teaching job during the recession, according to a PESB report for the 2016 Legislature. Teachers near the end of their careers were staying put rather than retiring and few were moving between districts or schools.
But that changed dramatically in the past year or so. Veteran teachers are now leaving faster than they have in at least a decade and transfers also are up. More mid-career teachers are leaving, too.
What’s unclear in Washington is whether the teacher shortage is a one-time rebound from the recession or if the improved economy is providing better opportunities outside education.
The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction asked the Legislature this year to raise the salary for beginning teachers, and add signing bonuses and other incentives to make the profession more attractive.
But lawmakers put off teacher-pay questions until next year when they will write a new two-year budget that must comply with the state Supreme Court’s 2012 order to fully fund K-12 education.