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Parts of the country may soon face a teacher shortage. Some big states have seen alarming drops in enrollment in teacher training programs. Numbers are also down in alternative certification programs including Teach For America. Eric Westervelt with the NPR Ed Team reports on what's behind the falling numbers and what some want to do about it.
ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: The numbers are grim in several states that are among the nation's largest producers of new teachers. In California, teacher training enrollment is down a whopping 53 percent in the last five years. Enrollment is down sharply in New York State and Texas as well. In North Carolina, enrollment is down nearly 20 percent over the last three years. Bill McDermott is dean of The School of Education at the University of North Carolina.
BILL MCDERMOTT: The erosion is steady, right? I mean, that's a steady downward line on a graph. And there's no sign that it's being turned around.
WESTERVELT: McDermott thinks big factors behind the drop include the strengthening U.S. economy and the wearing away of the image of teaching as a stable career. He says there's a growing sense that K-12 teachers simply have less control over their professional lives in a bitter, politicized environment. Take, for example, the ideological fisticuffs over the Common Core State Standards and high-stakes testing and efforts to link test results to teacher evaluations. Throw in the erosion of tenure protections and a dash of recession induced budget cuts in some states and you've got the makings of a real crisis. McDermott says it's as bad as he's seen it in his decades helping to train new teachers.
MCDERMOTT: There's a sense now that if I went into this job, which doesn't pay a lot and is a lot of hard work, it may be that, you know, I'd lose it. And students are hearing this.
BENJAMIN REILLY: Well, the honest answer is we don't know.
WESTERVELT: Benjamin Reilly heads the group Deans for Impact, a new consortium of 18 deans of colleges of education.
REILLY: There's been nothing that has sort of rigorously in a way that's empirically defensible said we know this is why the number has dropped.
ISABEL GRAY: I think I'm about 50-50. It really, honestly sort of depends on any other jobs that might come up.
WESTERVELT: Isabel Gray is a senior at Millsaps College in Mississippi. She's passionate about exploring a career in K-12 teaching. But as graduation nears, she's having second thoughts about a profession she feels is obsessed with testing and standards.
GRAY: You know, you want to find a balance between being a really good teacher and still meeting those standards and not just teaching towards the test. Really, you know, retaining that material and not just being taught, you know, testing strategies - it's just hard to find that balance.
WESTERVELT: The teacher employment picture is always local and regional. One part of a state may have too many elementary teachers while another may have too few. And the gaps vary by specialty, with many places facing serious shortages especially in science, math and special education. Reilly with the group Deans for Impact worries there may be a national mismatch.
REILLY: Are we overproducing certain types of teachers that school districts aren't looking for and under producing certain types of teachers that school districts and other employers are desperately looking for?
WESTERVELT: One possible solution is to pay teachers more. But many efforts to do just that have stalled or have been scrapped. Reilly says his group is all for giving teachers a raise if it's tied to better training and better results for students.
REILLY: If we can really take control of the profession and increase the rigor such that teachers are effective from day one, then I think that will prove to the public at large that this is an investment worth making and one worth increasing.
WESTERVELT: Still, recent surveys show that public school teachers in overwhelming numbers say that despite all the noise and politics, it's still an incredibly satisfying job helping children learn. Eric Westervelt, NPR News.
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