Looming teacher shortage reported - Titusville Herald: News

Looming teacher shortage reported

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Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2016 3:00 am

The state of Pennsylvania — and the nation, as a whole — is facing the growing prospect of a troubling teacher shortage, according to Titusville Area School District Superintendent Karen Jez.

She reported the issue to the Titusville Area School District’s board of directors during a Monday meeting.

“We learned recently at the Pennsylvania Leadership Summit, as well as through Kelly Services (a regional staffing agency), the nation is at risk… of a teacher shortage,” Jez said to the directors and audience. “Pennsylvania, in 2010, was graduating between 15,000 and 16,000 teachers, annually… This past spring [semester], less than 5,000 teaching certificates were issued, statewide. That’s 10,000 less than six years ago.”

The shortage does not appear to be drastically affecting the local district’s list of substitutes, yet.

The support staff substitute list in the district has a 97-percent fill rate, while the same list for substitute teachers has a total of 53 names.

She considers the list of substitute teachers “very good.”

The statewide problem, Jez said, stems largely from a recent change to the categorization of teachers seeking certificates.

“In Pennsylvania, specifically, they reorganized the teaching certificates,” she said. “It used to be kindergarten through sixth grade, and then secondary certifications. An elementary certified person could work in the middle level, up through sixth grade. And secondary certified folks could teach in the sixth grade if they were in the middle school content.”

Sometime within the past five or six years, she said, the state had reorganized the certificates to be arranged from birth to grade 4, grade 4 through 8, and the secondary certificate covers 7 though 12 certificate.

Grades 7 through 12 teachers are “content specific,” she told The Herald, whereas elementary educators have a more general education curriculum.

While Jez calls herself a “huge proponent” of Titusville Middle School, she said that the middle certificate — grade 4 through 8 — “serves no one.”

“Because, they have to get a dual certification in special education and something else, or they may be coming out with a dual certification in English and social studies, and they don’t have the content knowledge in any one subject.

She said that these changes are turning off prospective students seeking a secondary teaching certificate because the number of classrooms in which they can teach has shrunk, and some teaching programs have even closed.

“Now, they’re saying, ‘your secondary certified people can only teach as low as seventh grade,’” explained Jez. “And, coupled with that, many of the state universities have eliminated programs.”

She cited a recent decision by Clarion University to eliminate its music teaching program as an example.

“The state’s investigating what to do,” she said.

She said the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania Rural and Small Schools Association, along with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) are all looking for solutions.

Casey Smith, PDE deputy communications director, told The Herald in an email Tuesday that lower number of teacher certifications being awarded is one of a few factors contributing to the looming shortage of educators.

“Like other states, PDE is aware that some districts in Pennsylvania are having problems finding qualified teachers to fill vacancies,” she wrote. “When considered alongside factors like teacher retirements, teacher retention, and the number of students currently enrolled in teacher preparation programs, having fewer certified teachers contributes to a potential shortage. PDE is working to analyze the effects of the ongoing decline in certifications.”

The problem in Pennsylvania mirrors that of the nation, Smith added.

“Since the fall of 1996, the number of students enrolled in bachelors degree programs in education has decreased by 55 percent.”

She said that cuts under former Gov. Tom Corbett laid the groundwork for other factors contributing to the shortage.

“Under the previous administration, education funding cuts forced schools to make difficult decisions that included layoffs, the elimination of teaching positions, and cuts in student programs. The reductions in the numbers of professional staff contributed to larger class sizes, additional duties for the remaining teachers, and fewer support personnel, which have made a challenging profession even more challenging.

“These dynamics have likely contributed to fewer people seeking teacher certification and enrolling in teacher programs.”

Smith said Gov. Tom Wolf has expressed a desire to undo the cuts under Corbett and to even improve the education system beyond.

“Gov. Wolf is committed to fully funding education, and has secured funding increases at all levels of education for two consecutive years,” she wrote. “The governor and PDE recognize the importance of a qualified teacher in every classroom. A quality teacher can spark an interest in learning that can last a lifetime for students, and help them grow to be responsible citizens and healthy adults.”

“They’re looking at ways to resolve the certification shortages, and to bring back that kindergarten through sixth grade piece,” Jez explained.

Jez said the state Legislature enacted the changes to the certification process.

“They went ahead and created this new middle level certificate,” she told The Herald following Monday’s meeting. “Now, kids are going into education; and, mostly at the elementary level, they’re going into birth to grade 4. Because, that’s where they want to be. Very few students are getting that middle level certificate that actually lets you work grade 4 — so, some elementary [classes] — to grade 8. So, there is some content specific in there. But, there isn’t enough content knowledge for those graduates to feel comfortable and confident.”

She said the number of students seeking that grade 4 through 8 certification level is “lacking hugely.”

Furthermore, she said the increase in “red tape” has also contributed to the growing issue.

“Quite frankly, there’s a lot of red tape that the state and feds have put onto teaching that you can’t just become a teacher and teach. You have to be a specialist, you have to be trained in all this other stuff — all the various pieces of legislation and mandates that have been put on the teaching profession.”

Sterling can be reached by email, at jsterling@titusvilleherald.com.

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