Study: More teachers than jobs in Arizona - for now
The Associated Press
"Conventional wisdom has been that there's a dire teacher shortage," said Rob Melnick, director of Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
Instead, the study showed demand for the 6,880 new teachers needed each year would fall by almost 1,000 after 2006.
The state could be tipped into a critical teacher shortage should the population grow faster than expected, teachers retire at a faster rate than usual or lawmakers demand smaller classes.
Maintaining the balance also depends on continuing to attract former teachers back into classrooms and to graduate teachers from state colleges.
On the other hand, the tight market could be eased if teacher certification demands were streamlined or removed and a higher number of former teachers could be enticed back to school, the study said.
"It just takes money and the wherewithal to do it," Melnick said. "It's not like curing cancer."
Schools in growing rural areas have a harder time finding teachers, the study found. To a lesser degree, it's an effort to attract teachers to inner-city schools.
The study recommended offering more pay and other incentives to teachers willing to train in special education, who speak Spanish or are willing to work in growing rural or inner-city schools.
"Human nature being what it is, a teacher who has an opportunity to teach in a nice, stable, middle-class, suburban school for more money is going to take it," Melnick said.
Pay for teachers in Arizona ranks 26th among the 50 states, running about $4,600 behind the national average. Most professional workers make less in Arizona than they would in other states, but teacher pay lags even more.
Aside from pay, teachers said they would return to school if they had fewer kids in a class, less paperwork and tuition reimbursements toward higher degrees.
The study was hampered by a severe lack of information about who is getting trained and who is teaching in Arizona, Melnick said.
Education colleges, the state's teacher certification office and school districts do not coordinate efforts to track teachers, each keeping haphazard or incomplete records or none at all.
"It made it a very painful and demanding study," Melnick said. Researchers used surveys, national research and data and interviews, as well as sparse state numbers.
The study recommends that Arizona set up a centralized teacher information database.