How to address Pa.’s looming teacher shortage? Increase teachers’ minimum wage | Opinion

October 6, 2019 6:30 am

By Timothy Williams

If you have young children or are thinking about starting a family, or if your own children are starting families of their own, you should be very concerned. If you have no school-aged children and Social Security is in your future, you should also be very concerned.

Pennsylvania  is facing a crisis it has not faced in decades: highly qualified classroom teachers are becoming scarce. As the number of applicants for teaching positions continues to decline, schools consider themselves fortunate if they have one or two applicants for certain positions.

Data recently released by the Pennsylvania Department of Education points to the reason why school districts are finding it challenging to draw qualified, let alone certified, candidates for their vacant positions.

The state’s data shows a disturbing decline in the number of college graduates earning teaching certificates. The downward trend is troubling for the future of the state and the nation.

Pennsylvania, once a net exporter of certified teachers, is quickly entering an era where we will need to import teachers to meet current and future needs.

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The Education Department reports that 21,045 teaching certificates were issued during the 2010-11 academic year. That number fell dramatically to 7,970 over an eight year period ending in 2017-18, the most recently reported year. That marks more than a 62 percent decline in just eight years.

While the number of college graduates in all certification areas is declining, some disciplines are experiencing dramatically sharp declines. In an age when pundits declare that we should be placing a greater emphasis on delivering science, technology, engineering, and math to our public school students, we are seeing a very sharp decline in the number of college graduates qualified to teach those subjects.

The number of college graduates certified in math, physics, biology, and technology education have dropped 74 percent, 51 percent, 63 percent, and 91 percent respectively over the last eight years. Non-science areas have also been affected.

Business and Computer Information Technology certificates, for example,  have dropped by 88 percent. Even traditionally plentiful subject areas like music, art, social studies, and English have seen declines of 56 percent, 77 percent, 67 percent, and 59 percent respectively.

In fact, every commonly employed certification area has experienced a decline; even the bounteous grades Pre-K to 4 certification dropped by a third over the last four years.

If those percentages do not raise concern, consider this: In all of Pennsylvania, there were seven people who graduated with a Technology Education certificate during the 2017-18 school year.

Yes, seven. These are the people who teach Technology and Engineering Education courses in our public schools.

Superficially, the statistics are exceedingly concerning. When you consider that an unknown number of college graduates enter the workforce having earned more than one certification, the problem becomes more acute.

The 7,970 teaching certificates issued during the 2017-18 school year do not represent 7,970 teachers seeking employment. Rather, many of those entering public education have earned multiple certifications.

State law requires a starting teaching salary of $18,500, which has been the case since the 1980s. There are some places in Pennsylvania where teachers still make close to those 1980s wages.

Even if that is not be the case in our area, we should be concerned that the state mandated starting wage has not changed since the 1980s.

Recent statewide efforts to mandate a minimum starting salary of $45,000 have failed. Had the initiative succeeded, it initially would have had little impact on most school districts.

However, increasing the minimum teacher salary would have a significant long-term, positive effect on the number of candidates available to Pennsylvania’s school districts.

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Raising the minimum teaching salary to $45,000 likely would make it more enticing for college students to enter the field of education thereby minimizing the teacher shortage. More certified teacher graduates would mean more candidates available to public schools, ensuring a broader pool of candidates from which to hire.

What has prompted fewer college students to pursue teaching certificates? Perhaps they believe there is a declining reverence for public education; maybe they believe the pay is too low.

Maybe they believe that there will be no teaching jobs available when they graduate. Whatever the perceived reason, we must reverse the trend now before it is too late.

We must entice more people to enter the profession that spawns all other professions.

The future of our nation depends upon it, whether you are a member of the younger generations or of the Greatest Generation. America relies on an educated populace engaged in meaningful livelihoods, which in turn funds Social Security for older generations.

Increasing the minimum teaching salary would be a solid first step in demonstrating to potential teachers that we value education in Pennsylvania.

Doing so would provide a stimulus to head off the looming teacher shortage. Alternatively, we can allow the marketplace to dictate higher wages. By then, however, it may be too late.

Timothy Williams is the superintendent of the York Suburban School District, in York, Pa. 

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