State still has 2,000 vacant teaching positions

Low salaries, bureaucratic hassles cited as reasons why

State schools chief Diane Douglas (Courtesy)

State schools chief Diane Douglas (Courtesy)

TEACHER SALARIES

Arizona ranks 50th in the nation in teacher average mean salaries for elementary schools, and 48th for high schools.

Arizona USA

Preschool $27,850 $33,300

Kindergarten $42,350 $55,460

Elementary $47,730 $59,020

Middle $42,830 $59,800

Secondary $48,020 $61,420

Annual mean wage by city Education, training, and library occupations

City Mean wage

Flagstaff $51,240

Tucson $47,580

Prescott $45,690

Phoenix $45,520

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2016)

PHOENIX — A new report shows that nearly 2,000 teaching positions in Arizona remain vacant four months into the school year.

And 866 have quit since August or just never showed up.

The survey of 172 districts and charter schools also found that more than 3,400 teaching positions that schools had hoped to fill this year are being staffed by individuals not meeting standard teaching requirements. That includes not just individuals who are awaiting certification but also student teachers, those with emergency certification and those who are teaching interns while pursuing alternate methods of certification.

This week’s report comes three months after a similar survey by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association about the teacher shortage in Arizona found 1,300 positions not filled.

“Unfortunately, the state has not made gains,” said Justin Wing, the association’s past president who did the report. “As the data suggests, we continue to worsen.”

The numbers did not surprise state schools chief Diane Douglas. She said the problem is a combination of low salaries — Arizona is 50th in the nation for paying elementary school teachers and 48th for those in high school classrooms — and bureaucratic hassles ranging from paperwork to overly restrictive rules on how teachers are supposed to give lessons.

Douglas has proposed hiking the state sales tax to deal with the former and said changes in teaching standards should help address the latter. But she said the heavy reliance by schools to fill the vacancies with those who do not meet standard requirements is bad for children.

The survey says Arizona schools started the year with nearly 8,600 openings.

What that means is that four months into the year they still could not find qualified applicants for more than one out of every four positions.

So what did schools do?

Wing said 716 of those classrooms are now being run by long-term substitutes.

Another 560 of those vacancies are being covered by having teachers working extra periods. And 210 of the vacancies are being dealt with by packing more students into a classroom than the school’s class-size limit.

Of those positions schools were able to fill, 40 percent are being staffed by those who, by various special rules, are allowed in the classroom even though they are not certified. The largest share of these -- more than 1,280 -- are those for whom certification is pending.

But 963 of these positions were filled by people with “emergency teaching certificates,” people who lack any actual training in how to teach but have some professional background in the subject, like math or physics.

That, however, is not a long-term solution: These certificates are valid for one year, and available only three times to any individual.

Schools did take advantage of a new state law which does provide an “alternate pathway” to getting a teaching certificate, something other than graduating with a teaching degree.

It allows those who have at least a bachelor’s degree to initially become interns while pursuing a year-long alternative certification program. There are 787 individuals who are in classrooms in this category.

Douglas said part of being a good teacher is not just being an expert in one’s content area but being “passionate” about it, “which in my opinion you don’t get taking 24 credits in a subject.”