Want to teach but have no credential? asks the headline on a poster inside the Los Angeles unified school district's crash recruiting center. "Relax," continues the pitch. "We can help you get your teaching credential while you work full time as a junior or senior high school teacher ..."
The poster and the recruiting center reflect a surprising trend: a teacher shortage that promises to get worse, not only in Los Angeles but throughout the state of California and some other parts of the country. Within the next few weeks Los Angeles must find 2,500 new instructors for its classrooms. Before the bell rings for the new term, California needs a total of some 16,500 additional elementary and secondary teachers, a number that Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig believes will jump to about 110,000 by 1991. Conservative predictions from the National Center for Education Statistics put the countrywide demand at slightly over 200,000 new teachers in 1991, with a shortfall in supply of only 66,000 (see chart). But Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association, says, "By the 1990s we may need a million new teachers."
The shortage has already hit hard in the most populous Sunbelt states, catching some educators looking the other way. School-age populations fell off 5.3%, to 44.9 million, from 1980 to 1984, as the last of the World War II baby boomers graduated. But meanwhile, the number of preschoolers surged 9%, to 17.8 million. And now the vanguard of this baby boomlet has hit first grade, where enrollments rose from a 33-year low of 2,894,000 in 1980 to 3,079,000 for 1983-84, with more coming. In the Sunbelt states, the boomlet is being compounded by massive immigration from the snow country and the Third World. Texas, which had 3.42 million public school students in 1970, expects enrollments of 5.25 million by the year 2000. Florida's public school population, 1.56 million in 1984, is projected at 2.1 million for 2000. And California, with 4.1 million students, is bracing for an additional 724,000 pupils by 1991.
All this comes at a time when veteran teachers are fleeing the profession, and college students, put off primarily by the poor salaries (an average of $17,000 to start) and the low job prestige, are veering away from education careers. As recently as 1968, nearly 25% of college freshmen favored teaching as a profession, but last year only 5.5% showed any interest. Among the remaining young people who do decide to teach, reportedly up to half quit within five to seven years.
Most threatening of all, perhaps, is the imminent prospect of numerous retirements. The average age of American teachers has risen to an estimated 40 to 43, and in the next five years, 30% to 50% of the instructors are expected to bow out. The retirement trend has been accelerated in some part by recent efforts to upgrade qualifications. This spring, for example, Arkansas imposed a very unpopular competency test on all its teachers. And though results released last month showed that only 10% had flunked various sections of the exam, one union official said the test had a "devastating effect" on morale. Apparently so. Early retirements in Arkansas have shot up close to 33%. Teachers in other states may soon be following them. Eighteen states now require competency tests, and two weeks ago the N.E.A. voted to support such exams for all new teachers.