Ohio needs to get serious about the looming teacher shortage

Ohio is bracing for an exodus of baby boomers from classrooms as experts sound alarms about whether there will be enough teachers to staff our public schools.

Nationwide, some 200,000 teaching vacancies are expected annually (see here), the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported last week. Addressing Ohio's specific needs will mean tossing out current teacher-hiring and pay schemes and embracing market realities, especially to fill teaching positions in high-demand subjects.

In 2005, 36 percent of Ohio public school teachers were age 50 or older. Because of incentives in the state's teacher-pension system (see here), this means that more than one-third of the teaching force could retire by 2015. Still, the state is in a little better shape than many others because our colleges already produce more teachers than our schools can hire, although the surplus is mostly primary grade teachers. Future demand also will be tempered by the state's changing demographics. The number of Ohio high-school graduates is expected to peak next school year at about 124,000 and then decline by more than 9 percent over the following six years (see here).

Though Ohio may not see the large increase in overall demand for teachers that high-population-growth states like Florida and Arizona will experience, the Buckeye State does anticipate an increased demand for teachers in math, science, foreign languages, and special education just as experienced teachers are retiring in droves. In Columbus alone, Columbus City Schools Superintendent Gene Harris told the district's school board that implementing Ohio's increased graduation requirements-the Ohio Core-will require hiring 44 science teachers and 23 counselors (see here) beyond replacing the teachers slated to retire.

A lot of people (Gadfly included) have hoped that Teach for America (TFA) could be part of the solution in Ohio. TFA does what even the savviest district human resource offices do not: recruits first-rate graduates from a variety of majors and colleges to teach in their toughest schools. TFA recruits are trained in teaching methods and classroom management before entering the classroom, and they continue their education during their two-year assignment by earning a master's degree in education. And, they're bright. The average SAT score of a TFA recruit is 1321, versus 1017 nationally for college graduates and 1074 for recent graduates of Ohio's schools of education (see here and here).

The fact of the matter is, though, that Ohio doesn't need all of what TFA provides, that is teachers of all grades and subjects, at least not in the quantity TFA requires-TFA places at least 100 teachers per year at each of its sites. So instead, Ohio's educators, business leaders, and philanthropists need to replicate TFA's best features and target recruitment to meet our state's needs, via a "Teach for Ohio" program, perhaps. And if we want to keep the best teachers in the classroom-be they traditional pathway educators or those coming through alternative routes-then we need to make it worth their while. Pay differentials and signing bonuses for high-need subjects and hard-to-staff schools and merit pay for outstanding teachers would go a long way in helping districts compete with private-sector employers for the best and brightest.

 Ohio's alternative educator license already supports bringing subject-area experts into the classroom to teach seventh- through twelfth-grade courses. Our college schools of education have the courses and pathways to help alternative educators attain their provisional and continuing licenses; although they don't always use them (see here). Ohio's business community knows how to attract top talent-surely they can translate this skill to attracting top teaching talent. And our philanthropy and state government can put forth the resources needed to make the endeavor work over the long haul.

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