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Central Washington University

CWU Education Administrator Ranks Teacher Shortage a Crisis

Within the Yakima School District alone, as many as 2,000 students—maybe more—are in classrooms being led by emergency substitute and emergency certified teachers. Alarming, but not atypical. To varying degrees, it’s a scenario that’s being seen statewide, nationwide, even worldwide, which amplifies Washington’s woes.

“Spain, China—and other countries from around the world—are now recruiting CWU [teaching-degree] candidates,” says Virginia Erion, Central Washington University associate dean for the College of Education and Professional Studies. “They’re offering [employment] packages our candidates just dream about. So it’s becoming a global issue.”  

Particularly within Washington, a “perfect storm” of factors, in Erion’s words, is behind the dilemma. They include a rapidly escalating number of retiring teachers coupled with voter-approved mandates for smaller class sizes and all-day kindergarten. It’s estimated that the state is thousands of teachers below what will be needed to fulfill the new class-size requirements.

“We already cannot find special education, math, science, and world language teachers, and now they tell me that we don’t have enough elementary education teachers,” Erion states. “It isn’t surprising that we’re lacking. To me, what’s surprising is the number that we’re lacking. It all came together at one crucial moment.”

Another factor is that more students are turning away from teaching careers in the first place. The reasons including low starting annual pay, said to be only about $34,000, and a common misconception that teaching jobs were scarce.  

“I don’t have enough candidates in the pipeline,” notes Erion. “In terms of graduation numbers, in 2009 we had 257 elementary-teacher graduates. This past year, we had 165. That’s a 40 percent drop in six years! These are very dramatic and telling numbers.”

Erion and several other CWU representatives testified before the state Professional Educator Standards Board about the crisis. The university already offers three alternate pathways for those wanting to become teachers to receive needed certification. CWU is seeking PESB approval for a fourth alternative, in conjunction with the Wenatchee and Spokane school districts, that would also allow paraprofessionals into classroom teaching positions.

“With these programs, we’re looking for people who are 25 to 45 [years old] and who started a degree program but quit for some reason,” Erion says. “We can help them get their AA [associate of arts degree] done in a very short amount of time. Then we’ll put them in the classroom right away. If you ever wanted to be a teacher, now’s the time. But it’s going to take people with real passion to be the great teachers that we need.”

This all comes at a time when state lawmakers continue to grapple with how to best fund Washington kindergarten through 12th grade instruction, which costs an estimated $2 billion annually. Even so, Erion says grant money will be available, along with other forms of support from the school district through the university levels, for those wanting to move into teaching careers.

Media contact: Robert Lowery, director of Radio Services and Integrated Communications, 509-963-1487, loweryr@cwu.edu

October 8, 2015

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