UT Study: Tennessee Schools Face Widening Teacher Gap

 

KNOXVILLE — The number of teachers in Tennessee public school systems will not keep up with future demand, forcing school systems to look elsewhere, including out of state, to find teachers to educate the state’s growing population of school-age children.

Teacher and StudentsThat is the major finding in “Supply and Demand for Teachers in Tennessee,” a study released today by the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The report’s authors at CBER were Director William Fox; Research Associate Professor Donald Bruce; Research Associates Brian M. Douglas and Melissa O. Reynolds; and Graduate Research Assistant Zhou Yang.

The study — which estimates the supply and demand of public school teachers from academic years 2009-2010 to 2013-2014 — was prepared to help local and state education officials hire and develop new teachers. The Tennessee Governor’s Office funded the study, and the Department of Education and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) participated in the development of the report.

“Understanding future teacher supply and demand is a cross-cutting issue with implications for school districts, colleges and universities,” said Richard Rhoda, THEC executive director. “That is why it was appropriate that this study involved several agencies contributing resources to address a complex problem based on data. Since education is such an interconnected enterprise, we will need more of these collaborations as we go forward.”

According to the CBER study, the state will need as many as 69,168 teachers, pre-K through 12th grade, in the 2010-2011 school year, but will have only 57,665 teachers on the payroll because of expected teacher departures and growth in the required number of teachers. That will leave as many as 11,503 positions to be filled.

That gap will only grow over time, according to CBER estimates. By the 2013-2014 school year, the state will need to fill a cumulative 31,431 teacher positions, or about 40 percent of total teachers.

To fill the gaps, school systems will have to recruit college graduates and experienced teachers from other states, and look for people transitioning from other careers to become teachers. In some cases, Fox said, teachers may have to teach technical subjects for which they aren’t specifically trained.

Fox said the study helps to illustrate what must be done to meet the demands being placed on schools today.

“We’ve been changing the rules,” Fox said. “For instance, we’ve increased the number of math classes and sciences classes that students must take. We’ve lowered pupil-to-teacher ratios.

“What has never happened in Tennessee is someone sitting down and saying, ‘What are the implications of the policies we’re legislating?’ We have to begin to assess our capacity to provide the quality of education that we’re mandating, based on the traditional routes of finding teachers.”

Education Commissioner Tim Webb echoed that: “This study provides critical information as the state seeks to improve teacher effectiveness and implement the Tennessee Diploma Project.”

The Tennessee Diploma Project, which began this academic year, is a broad overhaul of standards and curriculum designed to challenge students and better prepare them for college and the workforce. Students who began high school in fall 2009 saw increased graduation requirements, a focus on the skills needed for college and the workforce in an ever-expanding global economy, and new assessments.

“Expanding all types of teacher preparation programs and teacher recruitment efforts is clearly going to be required to meet this demand,” Webb said.

It’s more than just finding enough teachers, Fox added; it’s finding teachers sufficiently qualified to teach the more complex subjects, such as science and math.

“There’s a huge imbalance between the number of people we need and the number of people who are being trained to teach these really technical matters,” he said.

The CBER study provides supply-demand gap estimates for a variety of teacher categories. The gaps are estimated to be largest in percentage terms (relative to 2010 supply) for teachers certified to teach English as a Second Language (ESL); elementary school music, art and physical education; eighth grade; and vocational education. The smallest percentage gap is estimated for kindergarten teachers.

In making their supply-and-demand predictions, researchers estimated a 2 percent yearly growth rate in the number of school-age children in Tennessee. They took into account the percentage of teachers who stay in their jobs from year to year, the percentage of teachers who move between school districts each year, the number of newly graduated teachers who enter the market each year and the number of former teachers who return to teaching each year.

Fox said his hope is that the report prompts colleges and universities to look for ways to increase the number of teachers they turn out, especially in high-demand subject areas.

The good news, Fox said, is that this report comes on the heels of two efforts being launched at UT Knoxville to help ease teacher shortages.

UT is partnering with the Public Education Foundation of Chattanooga, Knox County Schools and the Hamilton County Department of Education to create a new teacher residency program called Teach/Here. The program will recruit college graduates and career-changers with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math.

Also, it recently was announced that UT will receive as much as $1.8 million from the state of Tennessee to launch VolsTeach, a new program to improve the quantity and quality of mathematics and science teachers.

To read the CBER report visit http://cber.utk.edu.

C O N T A C T :

Bill Fox, CBER (865-974-6112, billfox@utk.edu.)

David Wright, THEC (615-532-3862, david.l.wright@state.tn.us)

Karen Collins, UT (865-974-5186, karen.collins@tennessee.edu)

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