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Lawmakers: 'Is There REALLY A Teacher Shortage?'

US Department of Education

Statehouse discussions on how to address a teacher shortage are centered largely on why and whether there's a shortage to begin with.

The number of Hoosiers earning education degrees has dropped about a third over the last decade. Sen. Mark Stoops (D-Bloomington) contends there's a direct cause and effect from what he charges are "punitive" evaluations and increasing public criticism of teachers by lawmakers and other leaders.

Higher education commissioner Teresa Lubbers says there's no single reason, and says it's not even clear that there's a shortage. She says more research is needed to establish whether rural or suburban areas or particular grade levels are affected more than others.

American Institutes for Research spokeswoman Angela Minnici says an increasing percentage of Indiana teachers are either fresh out of school or longtime teachers, but she cautions that may be a blip.

“We’ve seen some reversal in trends, some different trends since the Great Recession, so we don’t actually know if the teaching force is stabilizing right now or if that’s really an effect of the economic downturn that we’ve seen lately,” Minnici says.

A survey by the legislature's research arm finds 5-percent of Indiana teaching positions are unfilled. But only about a quarter of school districts responded to the survey. And the vacancies are highest in special education, science and math -- areas Rep. Rhonda Rhodes (R-Corydon) notes have been hardest to fill for decades.

Kennesaw State University economist Ben Scafidi suggested to a legislative study committee that the drop in new teachers is partly a pullback from a 20-year surge.

He says the survey’s numbers don’t necessarily mean anything.

“Public schools always have to hire people at the last minute. That’s routine business for hundreds of years. Schools don’t have, sometimes, good information about how many students will actually show up,” Scafidi says. “Second, a lot of teachers are in their twenties and thirties and have babies, so they don’t come back.”

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