September 15th, 1999

WATCH: Teacher Shortage -- False Alarm?

Inner cities and rural areas are having great difficulty finding math and science teachers and often hire people without proper credentials. New York City, for example, has about 10,000 teachers who hold only emergency or temporary credentials. In some schools in Oakland, California, half of the faculty is on emergency certification.

In other schools, teachers are told they must teach subjects they haven’t been trained to teach. What is called “out of field” teaching is commonplace, and by one estimate, 4,000,000 students are being taught by unqualified teachers. But a closer look reveals flaws in the system that create these problems. Georgia law, for example, allows teachers to spend up to 40% of their time teaching subjects they haven’t studied, which in effect legislates away the problem.

This documentary also takes viewers into so-called “Alternative Certification” programs, which give older adults a non-traditional way to enter teaching. Many traditional educators are skeptical of these programs, but school systems are standing in line to hire their graduates. The President and others are calling for more money for training, for programs to attract more young people into teaching, and for smaller classes. These supposed solutions not only may not solve the problem; they may exacerbate the problem. After all, will smaller classes help if teachers are not being adequately trained to begin with?

Our reporting in Georgia, Texas and California, among other places, suggests that the coming shortage is less a problem of recruitment than of retention. After all, 30% of new teachers leave within five years, and 50% of those teaching in cities leave the field. In other words, our schools are losing teachers almost as fast as they can be recruited, which means that it might be time to reconsider methods.

This program received a First Place EWA Award.

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