Is There Really A Teacher Shortage?

If you're looking for a teaching job that's not smack in the middle of a city or 250 miles from the nearest highway, you may find it hard to believe that America faces a teacher shortage.

Some suburban school districts, such as Virginia's Fairfax County, still report at least 200 applicants for a single opening, while poor urban and rural schools are hard pressed to fill vacancies. According to a recent survey by the National Center for Education Information, only nine states reported that it was "very likely" that a recent education major, fully certified, could find a teaching job.

So what's the fuss about needing 2 million more teachers in the next 10 years? That's the best guess of the Education Department.

But they'd like to make a key point: No one is saying the nation will need 2 million new teachers. If you're looking for a teaching job, that distinction becomes important.

Currently, there are 3.1 million teachers in American classrooms. At least 6 million Americans have an education degree. Many never taught, and most dropped out after the first five years. But they and others could be interested in getting into the market, at the right price.

Gordon Ambach, of the Council of Chief State Officers, says "It's very difficult to attract top talent into teaching when salaries are 50 to 75 percent lower than if these candidates go into law or medicine."

Nevertheless, more than 1 million people have contacted Recruiting New Teachers Inc., which provides information to potential teachers. More than 20,000 have applied to Teach for America since 1989; the Pentagon's Troops to Teachers program has attracted 14,000 people.

Legislation to reduce class size and early-retirement bills will create shortages. Some 30 percent of public school teachers are expected to retire soon. Demand for new teachers is greatest in inner cities and in special education, bilingual education, math, and science.

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