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Teacher Shortage Is Misunderstood

For too long, officials have been concerned about a teacher shortage.  The latest warning comes from New York State, which has nearly 8.600 fewer active educators than it did five years ago ("NY teachers wanted: Here's why" (Politics on the Hudson, Aug. 31).  Making matters worse, the number of students at SUNY majoring in education has dropped 50 percent since 2007.  A similar situation exists in California, with enrollment in teacher preparation programs plummeting 35 percent between 2009 and 2014.  But these dire data do not tell the whole story by a long shot.

The truth is that the shortages are acute only in math, physical sciences, special education and ESL.  Moreover, schools with higher rates of minority students and low-income students disproportionately bear the brunt compared with schools with white students and higher-income students.  I doubt that suburban districts have trouble finding history, art, and PE teachers.  That's an important distinction rarely mentioned in the media ("California's Teacher Tax Break," The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 15). By persisting in crying wolf, teachers' unions undermine their credibility. 

What I'm getting at is that public opinion is crucial in improving conditions for teachers.  If unions continue to depict an overall teacher shortage, rather than only in certain fields and in certain schools, they undermine their credibility.  There's already too much cynicism surrounding teachers' unions.  As readers of this column know, I support teachers' unions.  But that does not mean taking at face value everything they assert.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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