behind the headlines

Best of 2015: Why is there no teacher shortage in New York City?

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
The student art show runs through April 14.

When Principal Michael Shadrick posts a job opening at Williamsburg Preparatory School, he doesn’t worry about finding teachers to apply.

Shadrick and the small high school’s hiring committee received more than 100 applications for just three positions this spring. When Shadrick posted a different opening for a teacher certified in English as a second language, he sorted through another 30 applications before choosing two finalists.

That scenario might have played out differently in Nashville, Oklahoma City, or a number of other urban school districts struggling to fill positions before this school year begins, as the New York Times reported this month. California alone had more than 21,000 new teaching slots to fill this year but issued credentials to just 15,000.

The demand to work at Williamsburg Prep is emblematic of a different reality in the Empire State, which has many more aspiring teachers than classrooms for them to fill. While recruiters elsewhere are increasingly relying on people without teaching credentials to fill positions, New York’s excess supply gives principals the chance to be selective when reviewing résumés.

“I always try to get people with a little more experience and who know what it’s like to be a teacher,” Shadrick said.

In fact, New York remains one of the country’s most competitive job markets for teachers, according to Carrie Murthy, who analyzes higher education data for Westat, a research organization that works with the federal education department. Just one in three graduates from a teacher preparation program is able to land a job in New York, according to the State Education Department.

The state’s teacher surplus is large enough to have persisted even as enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen by 40 percent in recent years, Murthy said. That decrease outpaces the national average of 30 percent over that period.

“People have been saying for a while now that once all the baby boomers retire we’re really going to be in trouble,” Murthy said. “But at least in New York, we have yet to see that happen.”

Recruiting and hiring new teachers are not uniformly without difficulty across both the state and the city. Attracting well-qualified teachers tends to be more challenging for the city’s lowest-performing schools and in economically depressed parts of the state, said Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College and the current president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.

But a number of factors have converged to make hiring easier than it is in other parts of the country.

The state’s teacher preparation programs are still churning out excess graduates certified to teach elementary school and popular subjects where demand for new teachers is low, Levine said. New York state’s public school enrollment has stayed almost flat over the last decade, while populations are booming in states like Arizona and North Carolina.

"No one can remember ever having hired this many teachers in one year."Cosimo Tangorra, Niskayuna superintendent

And New York City, where the population has increased in recent decades, is a desirable place to live and work with relatively competitive teacher salaries.

“It’s a go-to location,” Levine said.

Other areas are also still recovering from deep cuts made to their teacher workforces during the recession. State and local budgets now look healthier, and districts are trying to quickly fill gaps in their workforce they’ve had for years. In other words, demand has suddenly outstripped supply.

New York City, though, doesn’t have to make up as much ground. The city managed to avoid layoffs between 2009 and 2013, though it slowed new teacher hiring by about half. (The rest of the state did see cuts, with schools losing about 8 percent of their active teaching workforce in those years, according to New York State School Boards Association spokesman David Albert.)

This year, districts are receiving an average state funding increase of 6 percent. Cosimo Tangorra, superintendent of Niskayuna, a 4,000-student district of north of Albany, said the extra aid allowed him to hire 44 new teachers for the coming fall.

“No one can remember ever having hired this many teachers in one year,” said Tangorra, a former deputy state education commissioner. He noted that the hiring spree was likely easier because the schools in Niskayuna, where just 10 percent of students are considered poor, are highly sought-after by parents.

The city has had trouble finding teachers before, most notably in 2000, when hundreds of vacancies were unfilled as the school year started and about one in seven teachers lacked certification. Since then, teacher pay has risen significantly, and programs like NYC Teaching Fellows were created to offer alternatives to the traditional teacher education process.

"A lot of people are questioning the profession in a big way."Craig Michaels, Queens College

Some educators are concerned that teacher shortages may still be on New York’s horizon, thanks partially to the public’s focus on teacher evaluations and standardized testing. The state is also introducing a new set of certification exams designed to make it more difficult to enter the profession.

Craig Michaels, the dean of Queens College’s education division, has seen undergraduate enrollment fall nearly 20 percent and graduate enrollment drop about 10 percent in the last three years. The higher costs associated with the new certification exams were keeping some students away, Michaels said, while others have flocked to alternative certification programs. Others may avoid the profession if they feel educators are always “under attack” by the media and politicians.

“A lot of people are questioning the profession in a big way,” he said.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, agreed, saying there are signs that New York “isn’t far behind” other states that are losing teachers. New York’s testing and accountability policies have demoralized educators, she said in a statement.

Levine disputed that argument, saying much of the discussion about how education policy was shaping the national and local teacher job market is not rooted in evidence.

The unions “make a good case, but there’s no evidence that’s the case,” he said. “The research needs to be done and anything anyone tells you at this point is conjecture.”

For Dylan Scott, an aspiring teacher with an in-demand science background, the difficulty of his job search has been surprising.

Scott, who has a master’s degree in biology, hoped that credential would propel him into a teaching position at a school close to where he lived and whose administration was well-liked by its staff. Seven interviews later, he’s realized the market for those positions is more competitive than he had thought.

“Now I’m wondering if I’m shooting too high,” he said.

Sabrina Rodriguez contributed reporting.

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The state’s year-round scramble to fill teaching jobs

Miss Michigan Heather Heather Kendrick spent the day with students at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science in Detroit

While much of the media attention has been focused this year on the severe teacher shortage in the main Detroit district, our story this week looks at how district and charter schools throughout the region are now scrambling year-round to fill vacant teaching jobs — an instability driven by liberal school choice laws, a decentralized school system and a shrinking pool of available teachers.

The teacher shortage has also made it difficult for schools to find substitutes as many are filling in on long-term assignments while schools try to fill vacancies. Two bills proposed in a state senate committee would make it easier for schools to hire retirees and reduce the requirements for certifying subs.  

Also, don’t forget to reserve your seat for Wednesday’s State of the Schools address. The event will be one of the first times in recent years when the leader of the city’s main district — Nikolai Vitti — will appear on the same stage as the leaders of the city’s two largest charter school authorizers. For those who can’t make it, we will carry it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

Have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The State of the Schools address will pair Vitti with the leaders of the schools he’s publicly vowed to put out of business, even as schools advocates say city kids could benefit if the leaders of the city’s fractured school system worked together to solve common problems.

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: The city’s teacher shortage mirrors similar challenges across the country but the problem in Detroit is exacerbated by liberal school choice policies that have forced schools to compete with each other for students and teachers.

Hiring efforts continue at Detroit’s main school district, which is planning another job fair. Head Start centers are also looking for teachers. Three new teachers talk about the challenges, rewards and obstacles of the classroom.

WHOSE MONEY IS IT? The state Senate sent a bill to the House that would allow charters to receive a portion of property tax hikes approved by voters. Those funds have historically gone only to traditional district schools.

UNITED THEY STAND: Teachers in this southwest Detroit charter school voted to join a union, but nationally, union membership for teachers has been falling for two decades.

COLLEGE AND CAREERS: A national foundation based in Michigan granted $450,000 to a major Detroit business coalition to help more students finish college.

High school seniors across the state will be encouraged to apply to at least one college this month. The main Detroit district meanwhile showed off a technical center that prepares youngsters and adults for careers in construction, plumbing and carpentry and other fields.  

STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT: A prominent news publisher explains why he told lawmakers he believes eliminating the state board of education is the right thing to do. An advocate urged Michigan to look to other states for K-12 solutions. And one local newspaper says the governor is on the right track to improving education in Michigan.

This think tank believes businesses should be more engaged in education debates.

LISTEN TO US: The newly elected president of a state teachers union says teachers just want to be heard when policy is being made. She wrote in a Detroit newspaper that it takes passion and determination to succeed in today’s classrooms.

A PIONEER: Funeral services for a trailblazing African American educator have been scheduled for Saturday.

Also, the mother-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died in her west Michigan home.

FARM-TO-SCHOOL:  A state program that provides extra money to school districts for locally grown produce has expanded to include more schools.

BETTER THAN AN APPLE: Nominate your favorite educator for Michigan Teacher of the Year before the 11:59 deadline tonight.

An Ann Arbor schools leader has been named the 2018 Michigan Superintendent of the Year by a state group of school administrators.

MYSTERY SMELL: The odor from a failed light bulb forced a Detroit high school to dismiss students early this week.

EXTRA CREDIT: Miss Michigan encouraged students at one Detroit school to consider the arts as they follow their dreams. The city schools foundation honored two philanthropic leaders as champions for education.

And high school students were inspired by a former college football player. 

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.