April 23, 2024

Back to School...For Most

By Stephen Tuttle | Sept. 9, 2023

Is there a dramatic teacher shortage in our country? Let’s see.

The country’s K-12 students have now returned to class, all 55.4 million of them being taught by just more than 4 million teachers. Most will be in traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms

Here in Michigan, 1.44 million students and some 80,000 teachers are getting to know each other or renewing old acquaintances. That’s a slight increase from 2021. The biggest increase in student populations has occurred at fully online charter schools, which have experienced a 63 percent increase since 2019 according to Chalkbeat, a nonprofit organization that covers education issues. That increase actually runs against a troubling trend of shrinking student populations.

Since the start of the pandemic, Michigan K-12 schools are seeing nearly six percent fewer students. Some of that is families relocating out of state and some of it is a lower birth rate five or six years ago, so fewer children are starting school. But most of it is more and more people choosing to homeschool.

While student populations have decreased, the number of teachers has actually increased by about two percent. With more teachers and fewer students, where’s the shortage?

Unfortunately, the shortages are in the areas where teaching and teachers are most critical like special education, advanced placement classes, and certified counselors. It isn’t likely there will be enough new teachers in the pipeline to replace those now retiring or leaving the profession, either. According to Education Week, there were 105,000 fewer new teacher certifications last year than there were in 2006.

Those leaving cite better pay in other professions and an array of issues having little to do with educating children. There are now highly politicized school boards, on both left and right extremes, making decisions and mandating classroom instruction that does nothing to improve our children’s education. (Or worse, creates a false or sanitized history convenient to the personal philosophies of board members.) Books are ordered out of libraries, or, in the worst cases, mostly in Florida, schools are closing their libraries altogether lest they carry “inappropriate” titles. Some teachers have also grown weary of paying for classroom necessities out of their own pockets.

Worse still, schools and some teachers have become targets of the Ignorant Screaming Class blaming them for all manner of problems. Adversarial parent intrusion has too often replaced cooperative parent involvement. As a result, real teacher shortages of a more widespread nature are likely.

Last year, Kansas State education professor Tuan Nguyen and two colleagues collected data on teacher shortages from 37 states and the District of Columbia. The results were a little frightening and a possible harbinger of shortages to come.

They reported 49,000 unfilled teaching vacancies, and, as we said earlier, there are far fewer students preparing to become new teachers than once was the case. Some states are now hiring substitute teachers without teaching credentials to full-time positions. Others are hiring people without any sort of college degree, much less teaching credentials.

Unfortunately, a teacher shortage is not the only potential disruptive shortage to our schools; we also have a chronic and worsening shortage of support staff and school bus drivers. Maintenance and food service workers are as integral to the operation of our schools as the administrators and teachers, are paid less, and are expected to do much.

And driving a school bus has to be among the most challenging jobs in the entire education system. Half of U.S. school children depend on school buses to get them safely to school and back home at the end of the school day. Imagine a twice-a-day carpool with up to 80 young, sometimes very young, passengers. The day might start as early as 5:30am at the garage inspecting your bus, it could take more than two hours to complete your route, and then you get to do it again in the late afternoon. In Michigan, according to Indeed.com, your pay might be as high as $25/hour or as low as just over $14/hour.

When USA Today surveyed public schools last year, 60 percent of the districts that responded said the driver shortage was severe enough it disrupted normal school operations and significantly increased student absenteeism. Districts in at least a dozen states were forced to require at home online learning days because they didn’t have enough bus drivers. Locally, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, East Jordan, and Traverse City have had to alter or cancel certain routes due to driver shortages.

And, please, now that those big yellow buses are out there, do yourselves and local schoolchildren a big favor and obey the rules when following or meeting a school bus. When that bus stops with red lights flashing, whether you are behind or approaching it, you MUST stop. It’s the law, and it exists so we adults value the lives of children more than we value our impatience or whatever is on our phone. Bus stopped, red lights flashing, stop.


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