Best of 2015: Why is there no teacher shortage in New York City?

When Principal Michael Shadrick posts a job opening at Williamsburg Preparatory School, he doesn’t worry about finding teachers to apply.

Shadrick and the small high school’s hiring committee received more than 100 applications for just three positions this spring. When Shadrick posted a different opening for a teacher certified in English as a second language, he sorted through another 30 applications before choosing two finalists.

That scenario might have played out differently in Nashville, Oklahoma City, or a number of other urban school districts struggling to fill positions before this school year begins, as the New York Times reported this month. California alone had more than 21,000 new teaching slots to fill this year but issued credentials to just 15,000.

The demand to work at Williamsburg Prep is emblematic of a different reality in the Empire State, which has many more aspiring teachers than classrooms for them to fill. While recruiters elsewhere are increasingly relying on people without teaching credentials to fill positions, New York’s excess supply gives principals the chance to be selective when reviewing résumés.

“I always try to get people with a little more experience and who know what it’s like to be a teacher,” Shadrick said.

In fact, New York remains one of the country’s most competitive job markets for teachers, according to Carrie Murthy, who analyzes higher education data for Westat, a research organization that works with the federal education department. Just one in three graduates from a teacher preparation program is able to land a job in New York, according to the State Education Department.

The state’s teacher surplus is large enough to have persisted even as enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen by 40 percent in recent years, Murthy said. That decrease outpaces the national average of 30 percent over that period.

“People have been saying for a while now that once all the baby boomers retire we’re really going to be in trouble,” Murthy said. “But at least in New York, we have yet to see that happen.”

Recruiting and hiring new teachers are not uniformly without difficulty across both the state and the city. Attracting well-qualified teachers tends to be more challenging for the city’s lowest-performing schools and in economically depressed parts of the state, said Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College and the current president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.

But a number of factors have converged to make hiring easier than it is in other parts of the country.

The state’s teacher preparation programs are still churning out excess graduates certified to teach elementary school and popular subjects where demand for new teachers is low, Levine said. New York state’s public school enrollment has stayed almost flat over the last decade, while populations are booming in states like Arizona and North Carolina.

"No one can remember ever having hired this many teachers in one year."

Cosimo Tangorra, Niskayuna superintendent

And New York City, where the population has increased in recent decades, is a desirable place to live and work with relatively competitive teacher salaries.

“It’s a go-to location,” Levine said.

Other areas are also still recovering from deep cuts made to their teacher workforces during the recession. State and local budgets now look healthier, and districts are trying to quickly fill gaps in their workforce they’ve had for years. In other words, demand has suddenly outstripped supply.

New York City, though, doesn’t have to make up as much ground. The city managed to avoid layoffs between 2009 and 2013, though it slowed new teacher hiring by about half. (The rest of the state did see cuts, with schools losing about 8 percent of their active teaching workforce in those years, according to New York State School Boards Association spokesman David Albert.)

This year, districts are receiving an average state funding increase of 6 percent. Cosimo Tangorra, superintendent of Niskayuna, a 4,000-student district of north of Albany, said the extra aid allowed him to hire 44 new teachers for the coming fall.

“No one can remember ever having hired this many teachers in one year,” said Tangorra, a former deputy state education commissioner. He noted that the hiring spree was likely easier because the schools in Niskayuna, where just 10 percent of students are considered poor, are highly sought-after by parents.

The city has had trouble finding teachers before, most notably in 2000, when hundreds of vacancies were unfilled as the school year started and about one in seven teachers lacked certification. Since then, teacher pay has risen significantly, and programs like NYC Teaching Fellows were created to offer alternatives to the traditional teacher education process.

"A lot of people are questioning the profession in a big way."

Craig Michaels, Queens College

Some educators are concerned that teacher shortages may still be on New York’s horizon, thanks partially to the public’s focus on teacher evaluations and standardized testing. The state is also introducing a new set of certification exams designed to make it more difficult to enter the profession.

Craig Michaels, the dean of Queens College’s education division, has seen undergraduate enrollment fall nearly 20 percent and graduate enrollment drop about 10 percent in the last three years. The higher costs associated with the new certification exams were keeping some students away, Michaels said, while others have flocked to alternative certification programs. Others may avoid the profession if they feel educators are always “under attack” by the media and politicians.

“A lot of people are questioning the profession in a big way,” he said.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, agreed, saying there are signs that New York “isn’t far behind” other states that are losing teachers. New York’s testing and accountability policies have demoralized educators, she said in a statement.

Levine disputed that argument, saying much of the discussion about how education policy was shaping the national and local teacher job market is not rooted in evidence.

The unions “make a good case, but there’s no evidence that’s the case,” he said. “The research needs to be done and anything anyone tells you at this point is conjecture.”

For Dylan Scott, an aspiring teacher with an in-demand science background, the difficulty of his job search has been surprising.

Scott, who has a master’s degree in biology, hoped that credential would propel him into a teaching position at a school close to where he lived and whose administration was well-liked by its staff. Seven interviews later, he’s realized the market for those positions is more competitive than he had thought.

“Now I’m wondering if I’m shooting too high,” he said.

Sabrina Rodriguez contributed reporting.