New York State School Boards Association

Teacher prep programs take a hit

by Paul Heiser

On Board Online • August 10, 2015

By Paul Heiser
Senior Research Analyst

Enrollment in teacher preparation programs in New York has fallen by 40 percent since the 2009-10 school year, meaning public schools across the state may have a harder time finding qualified teachers for their classrooms.

The 40 percent drop represents a decline of about 30,000 potential teachers between 2009-10 and 2012-13, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. In 2009-10, teacher preparation providers in New York - mostly colleges and universities - enrolled 79,214 students. By 2012-13, they enrolled just 47,872.

The nation as a whole saw a drop of more than 225,000 students enrolled in teacher preparation programs between 2009-10 and 2012-13 - a 31 percent decrease.

Other large states have been impacted as well. California saw a 44 percent drop in enrollments in teacher preparation programs over the same time period, while Texas saw a 50 percent decline.

The decline in New York has coincided with a drop in the number of active teachers across the state. The number of teachers employed by public schools in New York (outside New York City) fell from 151,203 in 2009-10 to 139,169 in 2012-13 - a decrease of 8 percent, according to data from the State Education Department (SED).

The shrinking pool of potential teaching candidates, particularly at a time when many teachers in New York are nearing retirement age or are leaving the classroom for other reasons, promises to have a ripple effect on school districts across the state.

"Lower enrollment in teacher education programs will make it harder for schools to find qualified candidates for teaching positions, especially in hard-to-fill areas such as math, science and special education," said Gail Nachimson, the chair of teacher education at Rockland Community College.

What's scaring education majors?

Fewer teaching positions, changes to the profession and budget woes all appear to be taking a toll on teacher education programs.

The economic downturn that began in 2008 hurt schools, and it still colors perceptions among those considering teaching as a career, Nachimson said.

"While opportunities for employment are starting to increase, students still cite a lack of employment opportunities as a reason they are not entering the field," she told On Board.

Meanwhile, the field expects a lot from those entering the profession. In fact, new teachers must pass a "bar exam" called edTPA. It's a performance-based assessment process designed by educators to determine whether new teachers are ready for the job. Substantial numbers of those seeking certification have not been able to pass the tests and gain certification.

"The State Education Department implemented a safety net in an effort to get more of these candidates certified and ready to work, but this has also contributed to lower-than-expected numbers of teachers entering the field in New York," Nachimson said.

The safety net, which was initially approved by the state Board of Regents at its July 2014 meeting and subsequently revised at its April 2015 meeting and then revised again at the May 2015 meeting, allows a candidate who did not receive a passing score on the required exam to use a passing score on the test that was used before the new certification examination requirements became effective.

Data from SED further illustrates the gap in newer teachers entering the profession in New York. Two categories of young public school teachers - those under 26 and those between 26 and 32 - declined by nearly half from 2009-10 through 2013-14. Meanwhile, the number of teachers at the upper end of the age spectrum grew slightly over the same period of time.

Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the State Education Department, acknowledged there has been an overall decline in the number of teachers coming out of teacher preparation programs in New York. However, he said, a larger problem may be the shortage of teachers being trained in specialized areas such as special education and the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math.

"Across the state, there is a surplus of teachers prepared for the common branch in elementary school who are unable to find jobs, while there is a strong need in our schools for teachers in specialized areas such as special education, STEM and for other vacancies, especially in high-needs schools," Burman told On Board. "Many of New York State's teacher preparatory programs across the three higher education sectors (CUNY, SUNY and independent colleges and universities) are working to respond to the market needs of our schools and are adjusting preparation paths to match recent and long-term trends."

There also is increased demand for teachers certified in bilingual education or otherwise qualified to teach English as a second language. Nachimson noted that regulations introduced this year require many school districts across the state to provide additional programs and services for English language learners.

Some states, particularly Texas, have tried to bridge the gap in the number of teachers by using virtual technology, which streams highly qualified teachers into classrooms over the Internet to deliver course instruction using a district's curriculum. A teacher's aide or substitute may be present for classroom management, but all of the instruction to students comes from the online teacher. Texas has adopted the technology in more than 40 districts.

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