New Jersey Republican Assemblywoman Michele Matsikoudis wrote yesterday that New Jersey needs “to combat the teacher shortage “head-on” to protect our kids from “overfilled classrooms or fewer academic opportunities due to our state’s inability to find enough qualified teachers.”
I agree with her sentiment but her substance leaves something to be desired. More importantly, Matsikoudis perpetuates the growing mythology about teacher shortages. Oh, it’s real– I’ve argued that here. But we’re better off ignoring the mantra chanted by Gov. Phil Murphy, NJEA leaders and NEA President Becky Pringle (who tweeted the teacher shortage is a “five alarm crisis“) and getting the big picture right.
Yes, there are real staffing challenges in schools. But that’s largely because the demand for teachers and instructional aides has spiked due to a firehose of COVID stimulus funds (which will run dry in 2024 but whatever). You can’t call it a “shortage” without acknowledging that the number of teachers districts are hiring is far more than they hired before we got all that COVID money. Supply and demand, anyone?
Seeing a lot of this around the country: Districts adding staff while losing students.
Here's Seattle where a strike is likely to start tomorrow: pic.twitter.com/s7uZfOASzm
— Marguerite Roza (@MargueriteRoza) September 7, 2022
Simultaneously, school enrollment is dropping, probably a combination of parent support for non-traditional options–which has risen substantially after governments unnecessarily closed schools for long periods of time–and a lower birth rate, although the ramifications of this drop in enrollment won’t be visible for a few years. The point is, we’re hiring more teachers for fewer students. That’s probably not sustainable.
Look at the official projections for K-12 student enrollments going forward: https://t.co/qnPRgZtPEE
Nationally, we've had growing enrollments for 30 years.
Almost no one working in school systems has seen an environment quite like what's about to come –> pic.twitter.com/wqPOJFFvLW
— Chad Aldeman (@ChadAldeman) August 16, 2022
And let’s remember we’re in the midst of a kind of workplace revolution, call it the “great resignation” or “quiet quitting” or simply the proclivity of young adults to job-hop. In addition, the unemployment rate across America is staggeringly low. With so many options out there for young people, why would they choose a career path that locks them into a back-loaded salary schedule with little opportunity for advancement? And, anyway, “quit rates in education rose slightly this year, but that’s true for the nation as a whole, and teachers remain far more likely to stay in their job than a typical worker.”
Hard to understand school staffing challenges without understanding that the unemployment rate for people with a BA is under 2%. https://t.co/bip3HqGez3
— Paul Bruno (@Paul__Bruno) September 2, 2022
Matsikoudis is right on target when she acknowledges the crisis of learning loss suffered in NJ and elsewhere. She wisely pushes some easy fixes: Murphy actually signing the bill passed unanimously in the Legislature eliminating an onerous licensing requirement; getting rid of dumb rules like teachers have to live in NJ in order to work here; easing the difficulty prospective teachers have in transferring community college credits to four-year teaching programs.
Those are great suggestions. But they merely tinker around the edges without acknowledging the cultural shift among younger people who value job mobility, higher starting salaries, and employee flexibility, and the thirst among parents for non-traditional education options. If we’re serious about rebuilding the teaching career–an imperative, given the true crisis of learning loss— we’ll need major shifts in how we prepare educators and retain them in schools. That will take a more concerted effort than those the suggestions offered by Matsikoudis.