In a time when schools are under pressure to produce highly educated workers to compete in the global market or suffer the consequences, America is facing a crisis. There is a shortage of teachers in America, and it’s expected to get worse.

There are several reasons for this. The first is pure demographics. The “baby boomers” — individuals born during the years after World War II until just before the Vietnam War began in the early 1960’s — are getting old. Other cultural factors have contributed to the teacher shortage as well. The advent of birth control in the 1960’s, along with the Women’s Liberation Movement, encouraged women to have smaller families. This resulted in greater freedom for women, but also had the unintended consequence of greatly reducing the number of adults entering the workforce. As the aging baby boomer generation retires, there are fewer and fewer workers to take their place.

If not the cause of the teacher shortage, but something that may exacerbate it, are the new, tougher admission requirements proposed by the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). CAEP’s recommendations are designed to produce better teachers by raising the standards for future applicants to teacher colleges. Quoting from their June 2013 report:
“The provider (the institution of higher education) ensures that the average grade point average of its accepted cohort of candidates meets or exceeds the CAEP minimum of 3.0, and the group average performance on nationally-normed ability/achievement assessments such as ACT, SAT, or GRE is in the top 50% from 2016 – 2017; is in the top 40% of the distribution from 2018 – 2019; and is in the top 33% of the distribution by 2020.”

Another related challenge facing educational institutions today is how to keep the teachers they already have. Teacher turnover is high, particularly in poor urban and rural school districts. For example, in the state of California, 20% of new teachers leave the profession within three years. In urban schools, the numbers are far worse — fifty percent leave during the first five years of teaching. And it’s not hard to see why. Teachers are routinely being asked to teach subjects for which they were not certified, to assume extra-curricular duties and deal with the ever-increasing wave of standardization and testing with little decision-making authority.

For brand new teachers, it’s “sink or swim”, because they often face a classroom for the first time without adequate mentoring or professional development. In addition, teachers earn less income than others who are similarly educated. They know they can earn more money if they pursue careers in other professions. Teachers may have been attracted to the teaching profession through a love of children, desire to help society and creatively engage with young minds, but it will take more than that to keep them engaged and motivated in the face of so many challenges.
If America is to compete in a global economy embracing rapid technological and social change, America’s students must achieve excellence in academic subjects such that they are able to succeed in college and in the professional arena. Particularly for students living in impoverished areas, a good education is the only avenue of escape available to them. Having well-trained, highly-motivated teachers is absolutely essential to the economic and social well-being of all Americans.