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The Coming Crisis in Education
October 2000

The approaching retirement of the baby boomers threatens to create a full-blown crisis in education as we will have tens of thousands of classrooms full of students, and no teachers available to teach them. This is going to be particularly hard on those governments that have been pulling money out of education budgets and picking fights with teachers.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, America will need to recruit somewhere between 2.4 and 2.7 million public school teachers by 2008, which represents between 85% and 100% of all public school teachers currently in the system. My estimates indicate that they will fall short by more than 200,000 teachers by the 2005-06 school year. If you impute an average class as having 25 students, that means that there will be something like 5 million American students sitting in classrooms without teachers.

The numbers in Canada are not as bad because Canadaís school age population is not growing as quickly as Americaís. However, Canada has no cause to be complacent either: of 285,000 teachers in Canada, more than 50,000 of them will retire by the 2005-06 school year, and that there will be a shortfall of 10,000 to 12,000 teachers. This translates into something like 250,000 to 300,000 untutored students.

Shortages are already showing up in math, science, and language teachers, as well as male teachers generally. These, and other specialties, are going to feel the punch first, which will then become widespread. Moreover, this is everyoneís problem; private schools are having the same problems attracting enough teachers, and will suffer the same massive retirements as public schools.

Why is this happening? Partly because there are so many people retiring in such a short period of time, and partly because of a change in attitude on the part of governments and the general public, there wonít be anywhere near enough new teachers in the system to replace the ones leaving. Teachersí colleges are ramping up their enrollments, but labour markets are tight, and alternatives to teaching are often more rewarding.

Beyond this, preliminary statistics indicate that something like 25% of young teachers are burning out within two or three years, and leaving the teaching profession for easier, better paying, less stressful jobs. The profession of teaching has come under so much fire that young people canít see themselves sticking around. Meanwhile, older teachers are just hanging on until the earliest date they can bail out with a full pension. This accords with conversations Iíve had with older teachers across the continent, where teachers say things like: 'I donít like teaching any more. Iím being forced to do things that donít work, and Iím being criticized for the results. I donít have any time to spend with kids who need personal help. Iím putting in longer hours at home because of the lack of prep time, and Iím getting burned out. I hate this!'

So what happens when we have classrooms full of kids and no teachers to put in front of them? First, school boards will blame teachers and teachersí unions, and the teachersí unions will blame governments. That will wear thin pretty quickly. The long term answer is that we are going to have to spend a lot more money on education, and probably invest in a lot more technology Ė which is another discussion for another day.

by Richard Worzel, futurist

© Copyright, IF Research, October 09, 2000.

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