NEWARK, NJ - Students of color in the Newark school district - which had 105 vacancies at the start of the school year - are “disproportionately impacted” by statewide teacher shortages, according to a report released Friday from non-profit JERSEYCan.

Based on correspondence across the state, it is harder for school leaders to find candidates for open positions. 

“This is the case because...there has been an overall decline in the supply of teachers prepared through both the traditional and alternate route processes,” JERSEYCan Executive Director Patricia Morgan told TAPinto. 

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Districts in the Garden State mostly lack teachers in the subjects of math, science and bilingual education - a problem school leaders are especially vigilant over given the impact on education of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

From 2013 to 2016, in-state preparation of teachers has dropped by 18%.

“As a result, all districts, but especially our larger districts, like Newark and Camden, which have greater hiring needs that cannot be filled,” said Morgan.

She noted a point of comparison were small school districts who may have 1-2 educator vacancies when the academic year starts - numbers that are “compounded” by the size of areas like Camden and Newark. 

In addition, 23% of educator preparation across the state produced bilingual educators and 18% had fewer than 10 candidates per program. 

According to the data (part of a series of reports), 84% of the current teacher workforce is white, compared to 43% of our students - despite research showing that students of color in grades K-5 taught by at least one teacher of color have had increased test scores and graduation rates. 

Overall, Morgan said, the report illustrates that school district’s needs (anticipated vacancies, new positions due to student enrollment and demographics needs) are not accounted for in the incoming roster of educators.

“We know students perform better when they have teachers who look like them. It is unacceptable that any single day, some 160,000 New Jersey public school students do not see even one teacher of color,” said state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

“It is critical that our educational workforce is reflective of our student body, which is why I've been working on a bill package to increase teacher diversity at every level of education," said Ruiz, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Newark and Belleville. "Not only will it work to recruit more teachers, but it will create more accessible pathways to careers in education for all New Jerseyans."

Hiring at the start of the school year is crucial, JERSEYCan added, since it is “extremely difficult” for districts to incentivize a teacher to leave their district at that point.

“The effect of this low supply of teachers is that many students, especially in Newark and Camden, are given short and long-term substitute teachers, who may or may not have the content expertise to adequately teach the academic course,” Morgan said. 

Not being nimble as far as testing and GPA certification requirements also keeps such school districts from hiring available candidates. 

The report, available here, outlines some solutions.  

It also delves into “Teacher Demand” - saying that New Jersey does not collect or report on what districts need and open roles they have at the time. 

“Many districts have seen a significant increase in English language learners and these districts are often struggling to provide the bilingual teachers required by law,” Morgan said. “Last school year, eight New Jersey counties could not meet bilingual teacher requirements for 10 or more of their districts.”

JERSEYCan said although stakeholders in Newark and Camden are working to face the teacher shortage issue head-on, the state could also do its part in immediately providing more certification requirement flexibility and helping to create a bigger pool of teachers to meet demands.