Teacher Employment

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By 2005 America's schools will be serving more children (54 million) than ever before, and the total number of teachers will have grown to more than 3.5 million (up from 2.5 million in 1980). Because of rising student enrollments, growing numbers of teacher retirements, the reduction of class sizes, new curriculum requirements, and high rates of attrition among beginning teachers, the United States will need to hire 2 million new teachers by 2010.

Despite reports of shortages in some areas, the United States annually produces many more new teachers than its schools hire. Nevertheless, only about 60 percent of newly prepared teachers nationwide actually teach after they graduate.

Still, there is a stark maldistribution of qualified teachers. Many schools are hiring increasing numbers of teachers from nontraditional routes into teaching, many of which offer very little preparation or mentoring support. Furthermore, teachers report that they cannot find jobs because they are not trained to teach in subjects and/or in geographic areas where vacancies exist or they are not willing to work for the salaries offered or where poor working conditions are present.

To be sure, noncompetitive salaries and inadequate incentives contribute to the nation's teacher recruitment problems. The average teacher salary was $40,574 in 1999. When accounting for inflation, however, the 1999 average salary gave teachers only a $135 raise from the average earned in 1972.

Improving salaries is critical but not sufficient to address teacher supply, demand, and quality issues. Most districts and states lack a coherent teaching policy framework that can link the ways teachers are recruited, prepared, inducted, evaluated, paid, developed, and retained. This entry outlines the latest trends in teacher supply and demand, licensure, and other employment policies that bear on these matters.

Inequities in Who Is Taught by Whom

In some communities, especially in high-poverty urban and rural locations, schools report increasing difficulties in recruiting qualified teachers in critical subject areas such as physical science, mathematics, bilingual education, and special education. As a result, schools often assign teachers outside of the field in which they have prepared. For example, in 1994, 28 percent of mathematics teachers and 55 percent of physical science teachers did not have the equivalent of a college minor in the subjects they were teaching.

Across the nation there is a need for more teachers of color to meet schools' desires for a teaching force that reflects growing student diversity. The teaching profession continues to be about three-fourths female and white. While only 13 percent of teachers are minorities, nearly one-third of the students are minorities. About 15 percent of students in teacher preparation are individuals of colorbut, if past trends hold true, only two-thirds of these will find their way into teaching.

In 1996 William Sanders and June Rivers found that African-American students are nearly twice as likely to be assigned to the most ineffective teachers and about half as likely to be assigned to the most effective teachers; poor children and those of color are more likely to be assigned out-of-field, lesser prepared, and nonlicensed teachers than their counterparts. Schools serving larger numbers of low-income students offer teachers fewer salary schedules and poorer teaching conditions (e.g., class sizes, availability of supplies and materials) than those who serve more affluent schools. Ronald Ferguson found in 1991 that academically able teachers were less likely to teach in lower socioeconomic schools unless salaries were raised. Beginning salaries can make a difference in terms of the numbers and quality of teachers recruited and in commitment to teaching.

Recruiting High-Quality Teachers

Newly licensed teachers have been found to be more academically qualified than those who enter without preparation. A 2001 review of teacher certification studies has shown that teachers who entered without preparation had lower scores on teacher tests. These numbers and findings stand in stark contrast to reports that surfaced in the 1980s, indicating that prospective teachers were disproportionately drawn from the bottom quartile of college students.

Yesterday's standards of teacher quality may not be tomorrow's standards. Growing evidence suggests that effective teachers must possess content-specific pedagogical knowledgethat is, they must have knowledge not only of the subjects they are assigned to teach but also of how to teach their content in different ways that make sense to increasingly diverse students. Given growing student diversity, teachers of all grades and subjects need to know how to teach literacy skills and respond to the needs of second-language learners or students with learning disabilities.

Preparing and Supporting Teachers

The extent to which teachers are well-prepared and the degree to which newly hired teachers are supported and assessed in their initial years of teaching can determine whether they remain in teaching and are effective over time. While as many as 30 percent of new teachers leave within five years, high-quality preparation combined with induction programs lowers attrition and enhances effectiveness. New teachers who have had student teaching are twice as likely to stay in teaching for more than five years. Graduates of five-year preparation programs are more self-assured and highly rated and have lower attrition rates than those from four-year programs in the same institutions. Teachers who have left the profession point not only to poor salaries but also to poor working conditions as having the most detrimental impact on their decision to leave teaching. They cite problems with administrative support and leadership, student behavior, school atmosphere, and a lack of autonomy.

Hiring and Selecting Teachers

School districts do not always hire the most qualified and highly ranked teachers in their applicant pools because of inadequate management information systems and hiring procedures that discourage good applicants for several reasons: the large numbers of steps in the application process, demeaning treatment, and lack of timely action. Some prospective teachers report that they decided not to enter teaching after having their files lost, experiencing interviews in which their qualifications were barely reviewed, failing to receive responses to repeated requests for information, and receiving late notification of job availability. These problems have been particularly acute in large urban districts. Other problematic practices that hinder the hiring of the best candidates include: (1) salary caps on experienced candidates, (2) cumbersome interstate licensure reciprocity, (3) limited ability to transfer pension benefits for mobile teachers, and (4) placement of beginning teachers in the most difficult assignments. While some school districts have eliminated these problems by professionalizing teaching and investing more in teachers, these lessons have not translated easily to other school districts.

Teacher Licensure and Certification

In the 1990s twenty-five states created new standards for teacher licensure. By the early twenty-first century, forty-three states were testing teachers, using almost 600 different tests. In 2001 the National Academy of Sciences found that even the relatively well-developed tests do not provide adequate information for distinguishing moderately from highly qualified teachers. Current teacher tests are designed to assess limited competencies, and states use a variety of unclear methods to set passing scores.

Several states are working to create three-tiered licensure systems based upon more rigorous standards. By 2002 only Connecticut had fully implemented such a system, and did so in combination with substantial salary increases. Indiana was in the process of mirroring the Connecticut system. Ohio and Georgia are using a standardized classroom observation system as part of its process, while North Carolina is devising its own portfolio system to assess new teachers. Most states still use simple paper and pencil tests.

In addition, more than 115 alternative certification programs are operating in forty states. While some of these programs expect teachers to meet the same standards as those in traditional certification programs, many do not. For example, in Texas, where about 17 percent of new hires come from alternative routes, there are no SAT score minimums, no requirements to have a content major in the field the teacher will be teaching, and virtually no mentoring guidelines. Studies show that alternative programs have added minorities and men to the teaching ranks in urban areas. A 1997 analysis by Jianping Shen, however, revealed that those who entered teaching through short-term alternate routes had lower academic qualifications, were less likely to stay in teaching, and were more likely to be teaching in inner-city schools that serve more economically disadvantaged students.

Regular certification standards vary widely across the states as well. Some states, such as Connecticut, require a master's degree in addition to a strong subject matter degree, substantial education course work, and a lengthy internship, for a full standard certification. Meanwhile, other states, such as Louisiana, do not require a minor in the field to be taught and specify few education course-work hours or clinical training demands.

States that hold high teaching standards, however, do not necessarily enforce them. For example, 67 percent of all mathematics teachers nationwide in 1994 had a major in mathematics and held full state certification; more than 80 percent met this standard in Minnesota and Wisconsin, while only 39 percent did in Alaska.

Teacher Evaluation and Compensation

States often do not have a standard teacher evaluation process. Principals often have little training in evaluation and find it difficult to balance evaluation with other responsibilities. Inadequate teacher evaluations contribute to difficulty in dismissing ineffective teachers. In the early twenty-first century, more states are passing legislation to create new standardsbased evaluation systems, some with measures of student improvement. Value-added student assessments are being considered for teacher evaluation and pay systems, although a number of technical issues need to be resolved.

New salary plans are beginning to emerge. In early 2000 the Cincinnati school district and teacher unions crafted a plan for overhauling teachers' career paths, using standards established by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). The process includes administrators and peer review, along with detailed portfolios focused on student and teacher learning. Teachers can advance on a career ladder and earn an additional $9,000. In 2000 Iowa passed a $40 million package that frames new teaching standards, reinvents the evaluation system, and creates a bonus plan for teachers. Teachers will be able earn substantially more, but many issues are yet to be resolved, including how principals, many of whom supervise at least forty teachers each, will have time to conduct valid evaluations.

Supported by new research linking NBPTS certification to improved student learning, forty-four states established policies to encourage teachers to receive NBPTS certification. In about half of the states and about eighty-five districts, teachers receive salary supplements for completion. Some states are offering up to $7,500 annual bonuses to those who have earned certification, and in California, National Board Certified Teachers can earn an additional $20,000 (over four years) by teaching in lowperforming schools. These policies are quite new and represent groundbreaking developments in dismantling the traditional lockstep teacher salary schedule.

Proactive and coherent teacher development policies help ensure an adequate supply of well-qualified teachers. At the state level, Connecticut took significant strides to recruit and retain qualified teachers in 1986. By raising and equalizing beginning salaries, while simultaneously raising standards for teacher education and licensing and introducing a well-managed teacher induction program, the state eliminated shortages and created a surplus of teachers by 1990. The state has few unqualified teachers teaching in its public schools and posted some of the highest student achievement gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The overall problem is not a shortage of people willing to consider teaching but an array of labor, market, and occupational factors. Wealthy districts that pay high salaries and offer good working conditions rarely experience shortages. Districts that have more difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers tend to serve low-income students, pay teachers less, offer larger class sizes and pupil loads, provide fewer materials, and present less desirable working conditions, including less professional autonomy. Thus, teacher supply should not be evaluated in terms of gross numbers of teachers needed in relation to gross demand, but in terms of specific qualifications and characteristics of the teaching force and in terms of the demands of schooling all of the nation's students well.

See also: Teacher Education; Teacher Evaluation.


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Barnett Berry

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