Wisconsin’s Growing Teacher Shortage
The number of education majors and teaching candidates is drastically declining. Why?
Across the state there are reports of growing problems for school districts trying to fill vacant teaching positions and universities trying to attracting education majors. The La Crosse School District needs to fill 23 different positions, “but the district said that’s proving to be difficult because the number of applicants continues to drop each year,” News800.com in LaCrosse reports.
But that isn’t the only district coming up empty, the story noted. “I have received increased e-mails and communications from superintendents and principals about openings,” Marcie Wycoff-Horn, director of the college of education at UW-La Crosse, told the TV station. As of early August the education job website WECAN had listings for more than 2,000 teaching jobs, “a number experts say is high for this close to the school year,” Madison TV channel 3000 reported.
Four times this summer, the Waukesha School District had to post the same opening for a high school position teaching biology and chemistry, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The West Allis-West Milwaukee School District experienced “shallow or nonexistent” pools of candidates for teaching jobs in family and consumer services, physics and chemistry, district officials told the paper.
Prof. Diana Hess, now Dean of the School Education at UW-Madison, told Wisconsin Public Radio there is a teacher shortage across the state in both urban and rural school districts. “Even though we don’t know the exact figures… we are hearing from school districts that this late in the summer, they still have vacancies that they haven’t filled, and that’s really unusual,” she said.
Percy Brown, director of equity and student achievement at Middleton High School in Dane County, told Madison radio station WKOW the school is “struggling” to fill its business education positions — “and the reason for that is – why would someone want to be a teacher and make $35,000 a year, when they can go into the private sector and make $55,000.”
Officials from the Yorkville, Whitewater and Elkhorn school districts say they are having trouble finding substitute teachers, and officials in the Fond du Lac, North Fond du Lac, Rosendale-Brandon, and Green Lake school districts face the problem as well.
The problem is likely get worse because the number of teachers that needs to be replaced is getting bigger. “We’ve seen a reduction in teacher salaries and because of that you’ve seen more and more early retirements, but because of the attack on the profession, it’s not as attractive to want to become a teacher,” Brown said.
The Spooner school district saw 25 percent of its faculty retire, resign, or not have their contract renewed this year, and the Madison and Milwaukee districts are also losing high numbers of teachers, as Paul Doro reported for Urban Milwaukee. Experts say there will be a huge number of openings to fill in the coming years because 22 percent of the state’s current teaching base is aged 55 or older.
Meanwhile, the supply of new teachers is shrinking, providing fewer new teaching applicants. At UW-Oshkosh, which has one of the state’s largest teacher training programs, the number of students majoring in education has declined by 25 percent over a four year period.
UW-Milwaukee’s School of Education has seen a 23 percent decrease in enrollment in a five-year period from more than 3,000 in 2010 to a little more than 2,300 in 2015, as Jeremy Page, assistant dean of student services in the School of Education, told Urban Milwaukee. Marquette’s College of Education has decreased steadily, from 445 students in 2010 to 385 in 2014, the JS reported.
UW-Stevens Point has seen an 18 percent decline in students are studying to become teachers. “In fall 2010 we had about 1,409 students, now we have about 1,150 students,” the university’s head of education Patricia Caro told WAOW.com, the ABC affiliate in North Central Wisconsin.
Why the sudden decline in the supply of teachers? Steve Salerno, associate superintendent of human resources for the La Crosse School District, told News800.com that until 2011 the district had virtually no issues trying to fill an open position, but since then, trying to find a teacher or even a teaching assistant has been been difficult. “At the height of Act 10 we began to see fewer and fewer people entering into the profession,” he said.
Brown blamed the reduction in compensation for teachers: “because of that you’ve seen more and more early retirements,” yet “because of the attack on the profession, it’s not as attractive to want to become a teacher,” he told WKOW. Caro, too, pointed to Act 10 as a key reason for the decline of teaching majors.
The reduction in compensation and security for teachers resulting from Act 10 comes at a time when recent college graduates are facing record student loan debt. The improvement in the economy also means more private sector jobs are available. Meanwhile, the criticisms directed at teachers may send a message to young people that teaching is not a valued or respected profession in Wisconsin.
What’s remarkable about this whole situation is that no one pushing for Act 10 and arguing that teachers earned too much ever presented any evidence to support this point. Indeed, Act 10 was simply the first step in a series of un-studied policy changes launched by Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators.
And when Walker justified Act 10, he repeatedly said the state’s taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for better benefits for public employees than they themselves received. Not once did Walker point to a study of comparable jobs to suggest teachers were overpaid compared to other white collar workers in this state or nationally.
The reality is that Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson had imposed state limits on school spending and teachers union arbitrations to steadily reduce teacher salaries. In the late 1980s, Wisconsin spent 47 percent more than the average state in per-pupil expenditures and average teacher salaries here ranked among the top 10 states. By 2007-08, Wisconsin had dropped to nearly the national median in school spending, and Wisconsin average teacher salary ranked 23rd nationally, at 93 percent of the average pay nationally.
So it would hardly be surprising if the significant reduction in compensation for teachers passed in 2011, along with the end of their collective bargaining rights and a reduction in the stature and prestige of the job, might reduce the supply of teachers. Add to that the increase in voucher schools, which means more cheap schools with much lower salaries replacing public schools, and there are many reasons that students might see teaching as a less attractive option in Wisconsin.
In Indiana, where the number of people obtaining a teaching license fell by more than 50 percent since 2010, critics of the state’s policies have blamed the growth of private school vouchers and widespread bashing of public school teachers by Hoosier elected officials. Indiana also passed a law reducing collective bargaining rights. Two legislators there have asked for a study of why the teacher shortage of teachers has arisen.
But Wisconsin, where the Wisconsin Idea once married academic research to public policy, now prefers government by whim. Walker and Republican legislators clearly see that school districts are having problems attracting teachers, but their solution is to simply lower standards for the profession.
A proposed budget item would have allowed anyone with a bachelor’s degree to be hired and licensed to teach sixth- through 12th-grade English, math, social studies or science, and would have allowed any person with relevant experience — even a high school dropout — to teach in any other non-core academic subject in those grades. The final budget cut the first item but allowed the reduction in standards for teachers of non-core subjects.
As the teacher shortage grows, how will state leaders respond? Based on the last four years of policymaking, you can expect more proposals – with no study of the possible consequences — to reduce standards for the profession.