The Looming Teacher Shortage Crisis

Middle School Science Teacher

This is not a formula any science teacher would propose: Take a state that holds itself accountable in its constitution for “minimally adequate” education; combine legislative foot-dragging over a court decision demanding remediation of appalling conditions at schools along a poor section of the state dubbed the “corridor of shame;” and mix in a burdensome level of testing that is limiting teaching time and driving out veteran teachers. The result is a state that rates 48th in the nation in K-12 education nationally.

Now stir in a federal budget that would slash millions from the state’s schools and heat slowly over the next decade as Baby Boomer teachers retire in droves while the number of students enrolling in teacher education courses dives by a third in eight years. Catalyze with booming population growth that creates a surge in demand for teachers over the next 20 years.

You don’t need to be a chemistry teacher to see that the reaction could be explosive. If you’re a teacher, or a school administrator, it is replete with opportunity.

That is the state of education in South Carolina today. A recent study by U.S. News and World Report found just 44% of South Carolina high schoolers met the standard for “college readiness” on the ACT exam’s English section.

Students aren’t the only ones suffering. While attrition among teachers has always been high, the pipeline is not filling as readily as it used to. Nearly 6,500 teachers didn’t return to their positions this school year, leaving some schools unable to fill teaching positions – mostly in math, science, foreign language and special education.

The trend is not encouraging. The lowest percentage of teens aspire to be teachers than any time since the State Department of Education began tracking career aspirations among the youth.

It couldn’t come at a worse time in the Lowcountry, where growth is straining a variety of resources. Berkeley County alone expects enrollment to triple in the next 20 years. A report by the National Center for Educational Statistics projects total teacher growth of roughly 20% during that time, leaving the district short about 1,600 teachers and another couple of hundred administrators. The hiring sign will be out.

The state legislature has attempted to remedy the impending shortage by slashing the standards students have to meet at alternative teacher certification programs. Bob Perkins, associate professor and department chair for teacher education at College of Charleston, says there are now seven paths students can take to achieve teaching certification that lower the bar on their level of preparation.

“If you saw a shortage of doctors, would you want some alternative way of getting people through medical school? When we send someone into a classroom they need to be ready for any classroom,” he said.

The good news is that the shortage will create opportunities for teachers and administrators. Already some school districts in South Carolina are offering teacher incentive bonuses of close to $5,000. The next issue will be retention.

With the dramatic growth in the number of schools, demand for teachers and administrators with advance degrees will grow as well. Already at the Lowcountry Graduate Center, the University of Charleston, S.C. offers a graduate certificate program for Gifted and Talented Education.

“Based on the growing demand for leadership in the teaching and administrative ranks, the Lowcountry Graduate Center has made pedagogical education one of our priority areas,” said Dr. Nancy Muller, associate dean and director of the LGC. “We expect to roll out more programs in the future.”