Today’s Washington Post highlights a well-known challenge that requires urgent action: the growing teacher shortage for the nation’s K-12 schools. The situation will prove particularly acute for under-performing urban public school systems like the D.C. Public Schools where attrition of new teachers is high even as more senior teachers begin to retire.
Michael Alison Chandler’s front-page article “Schools Pinched in Hiring” notes that teaching remains a profession dominated by women even as women have increasingly broad career options. While the article goes on to cite the challenges that teachers face under the “No Child Left Behind” requirements as a reason for some of the stress — teachers now feel obliged to teach to standardized tests rather than adapt lesson plans more closely to the needs and skills of their particular students — the article is somewhat silent on two other major challenges for the future of the teaching corps. One challenge is affordable housing in the urban core. The other challenge is the alarming decline in the proportion of men completing college.
The affordable housing crisis cannot be understated in thinking about solutions to the future workforce shortages for teachers, nurses, police and fire personnel, and other workers who do some of the most important service in our society. This morning I happened to drive past a new housing development near Fort Lincoln along South Dakota Avenue. “Luxury Townhomes from the $500’s” boasted the many signs along the road, and they certainly did not mean five hundred dollars. This is not the only place in close-in Washington where the prices for new homes seem guaranteed to drive-out the middle class workers who run the city and provide essential services. Who can afford a $500,000 mortgage, or even the down payment? Certainly not a brand new teacher starting out her career at $50,000.
Raising salaries is one solution, to be sure, but wage increases will surely drive up other prices, including the price of college tuition since our salary scales have to rise above those of K-12 education. The spiral is well-documented. Urban policymakers who want to ensure a future quality of life for excellent teachers and other members of the essential workforce need to pay more attention to the housing crisis that is fueling the workforce shortage in skilled professions.
The other critical issue for the future workforce — not only teachers, but other skilled professions — is the declining proportion of male students enrolled in colleges and universities. Women are close to 60% of all undergraduates, and on many coeducational campuses the male population is now below 40%. We women’s colleges can see a certain irony in this situation, having been founded back in the day when women were barred from admission to college. But we also know that as we encourage women to consider any and all professional opportunities today, the professions once considered ‘women’s work’ are suffering — teaching and nursing being two examples.
One solution, of course, is to change the image of what is ‘women’s work’ and ‘men’s work’ in the minds of rising generations. Male and female students from all backgrounds need all options open to them, and no particular kinds of work should be off-limits by gender any more than we’d limit work horizons by race or culture.
And, while I disagree vehemently with those colleges and universities who are now giving preference to men in admissions (see U.S. News “Many Colleges Are Rejecting Women at Rates Drastically Higher than Those for Men” and in the New York Times “To All the Girls I’ve Rejected”), it is true that we must pay more attention to male completion of college degrees, and particularly among Black and Hispanic men where the completion rates are very low.
Trinity has long been a leader in teacher preparation for the Washingtion region, as well as the preparation of principals and guidance counselors. We have worked closedly with all regional private and public school systems, and nonprofit organizations such as New Leaders for New Schools and Teach for America. Our NCATE accreditation two years ago means that the reach of our certification can be nationwide. We will continue our historic emphasis on the preparation of excellent classroom teachers and hands-on administrators for schools in this region and around the nation even as we participate in the effort to find better solutions to the future needs of the teaching workforce.
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