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Lancaster County will feel shortage of classroom teachers in less than two years

02/22/2016 Lancaster Online By Susan Baldrige

Some teachers burn out.

Others fret about the behavioral problems they face every day.

Many worry about endless testing and a growing list of responsibilities.

Whatever the reason, the number of Pennsylvanians who want to teach has fallen to alarmingly low levels, an LNP analysis shows, and educators are now warning of a looming crisis in the classrooms.

Many districts have already felt the impact in the scarcity of substitute teachers. But education officials say schools will begin feeling the full impact of a teacher shortage in about a year and a half when they will be forced to compete more aggressively for fewer qualified candidates.

"The substitute shortage — that's just the canary in the coal mine," said George Drake, the dean of Millersville University’s College of Education. "The real crisis is the shortage of the pool of students going into teaching. We are very concerned about the drop."

On the losing end, many say, will be students.

“The schools here in Lancaster County are already hurting for regular classroom teachers," Flip Steinour, the director of human resources for Intermediate Unit 13, said.

The number of in-state residents seeking teacher certifications has fallen by 62 percent since 2012, Pennsylvania Department of Education data show. In 2015, only 6,215 sought certification, down from 16,361 three years earlier.

The decline is just as precipitous in specialty certifications such as special education, chemistry and math.

"Every year in Pennsylvania, we need to replace about 5,500 teachers," Steinour said. "Think about the bigger picture of that. It means every person, good or bad, who graduates and gets a certification is going to get hired. We will have zero choice."

Origins of shortage

There are no clear answers to why teaching has become undesirable.

But there are plenty of theories.

Brian Barnhart, executive director of IU 13, said he believes the impending teacher shortage dates back to the country's economic crisis in 2008 and 2009.

"It sent a message to people going to college: ‘There's a lack of jobs. Don't bother going into teaching because there will be no jobs when you get out,’" said Barnhart.

Before the full effect of the economic crisis hit, more than 35,000 college students had entered a teacher prep program in Pennsylvania, records for the 2008-09 academic year show.

By 2013-14, that number dwindled to about 18,000. Only 13,500 actually graduated from a teaching program that year and only 7,800 went on to get their teacher certification in the state.

Even fewer stayed in Pennsylvania to teach.

Millersville University's Drake said the evolving and complicated testing requirements that prospective teaching candidates must pass before even beginning their education could scare some away.

"Wouldn't that be horrifyingly ironic if these kids who are coming to the university, who have been tested every year from third grade on, are just seeing another round of high-stakes testing and saying 'No, if I'm not an education major, I don't have to take another high stakes test,’" Drake asked.

By the numbers

Many teachers don’t want to teach anymore, either.

The number of certified teachers who seek additional certifications has declined by 78 percent over two years, and the number of out-of-state teachers looking to become credentialed here has dropped by 57 percent.

John Ward, the interim associate dean of education at Millersville, said the university has seen steep declines in the number of teachers seeking certifications.

"We have the students who come out of high school and want to be teachers and those who come back to college for a teaching certification,” he said. “It's that second level where we've seen the biggest decline. I think it's down more than 50 percent."

The decline in the number of students going into teaching at Millersville is 52 percent since 2010, when there were 500 grads. This year, 238 students will graduate from Millersville with bachelor’s degrees in education.

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