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Can Tech Fill the Gaping Hole Left by Teacher Exodus?

America, we have a problem

by Charles Sosnik

It’s as if schools are sitting on the deck of the Titanic, playing music as the great ocean liner descends into the murky depths of the North Atlantic. As the band plays on, their music is filled with our day-to-day challenges. We are engulfed in issues like superintendent firings, metal detectors in schools and union negotiations. We talk about student mental health and opioid use in schools.

All these issues are important, and the discussions are fueled by our local news organizations who are the first to point out our flaws.

But the one thing that isn’t getting enough coverage in the media is akin to a massive iceberg on the horizon that threatens the very existence of our public schools: we are losing our teachers. The fact is teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers, we have a diminishing talent pool from which to recruit new teachers, and we have no answer to the teacher exodus.

By the Numbers

American humorist Mark Twain once said, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” But in this case, the numbers don’t lie. In the last eight years, we have seen a 37 percent decrease in the number of college students enrolled in teacher prep programs.

Add to that, the fact that many states are losing a quarter of their new teachers after the first year and our new teachers are Millennials with no expectation of long-term employment, and we have a teacher shortage problem.

It’s the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room.

Unless we believe technology is a magic bullet that can replace our disappearing teachers, we need to figure this out. If not, in a few years we may be yearning for the good old days of 40-student class sizes.

Here are a few additional facts to add to the mix:

• Almost half (46 percent) of teachers who graduated from a school of education and accepted employment in a US school district will leave the profession altogether within the first five years.

• Schools experiencing periods of high turnover are more likely to hire teachers who are not fully licensed.

• High-poverty schools are more likely to have vacancies and are more likely to fill positions with first-year or non-credentialed teachers

• In the past eight years, the number of students enrolled in traditional schools of education in the U.S. has dropped from 609,106 to 337,690

• In the past eight years, the number of students enrolled in non-traditional teacher preparation has risen from 38,595 to 66,173.

• By 2025, the number of new teachers needed is expected to be over 300,000 per year, while the expected supply of new teachers is expected to be just over 100,000.

• In some states, uncertified or unlicensed teachers are in classrooms.

• The number one reason teachers are leaving is because of a lack of administrative support.

• We have a growing number of non-traditional students (homeless, poverty, minority) who come from non-traditional families (merged, minority, single parent, two-working parents) and who learn in non-traditional ways (technology).

• The largest shortages are in Special Education, English as a Second Language (ESL), Science, Math and Technology (STEM)

 Can Technology Save Us?

Clearly, the number of vacancies in the coming years is expected to outstrip the number of available new teachers by an untenable amount. What shall we do?

Some experts cite the promise of technology to make up the difference. Others believe the roll of teachers will change, but the need for qualified professionals will remain constant. According to LeiLani Cauthen, CEO of the research and publishing firm The Learning Counsel, the roles of teachers may change significantly, but technology will not defer the importance nor the demand for teaching professionals.

“There will be more employment needed, not less,” said Cauthen, “but some of the roles will change.” The arguments about choice and teacher-to-administrator ratios are based on existing whole-group-by-age-batch and classes, specifically the classroom; they don’t acknowledge the fact that there is a different way to think about all of it now that technology and sophisticated algorithms are on the scene.  There’s more to this discussion, but the top-line rough estimates are that the 3.3 million-or-so K-12 teaching jobs will eventually change roughly as follows:

“Approximately 50 percent of teaching jobs will go into prep and analytics to provide totally personalized learning pathways. The role will get into the deep use of analytics showing what a student may be missing in the length of time it takes them to complete a task, what quizzes and tests reveal, cross-analysis of their interests and more in order to adjudicate next steps. This moves subject expertise into a “b