The percentage of California educators reaching retirement age is rising rapidly, while the number of newly credentialed teachers has decreased for the seventh year in a row, new reports show.
The findings have important implications for school budgets and staffing, as older educators typically command higher salaries and will need a new workforce to take their place at retirement.
More than 23 percent of educators – including teachers, school nurses, speech therapists and administrators – were ages 56 to 65 in 2009-10, up from 14.2 percent in 1995-96, according to research released last month by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd.
Because most educators retire between ages 57 and 66, the state is in the midst of a retirement wave that's expected to swell in the next couple of years, said Tony Fong, senior policy associate at WestEd. Four out of 10 California educators were older than 50 in 2009-10.
The down economy appears to have accelerated retirements, Fong added. On average, his report found, a $1,000 reduction per student in a district's "other local revenue" – a source of funding that varies widely by district – was associated with about a 4 percent increase in the probability of educators retiring.
Research looking at workers broadly has found that employees generally stay on the job longer during recessions. But financial uncertainty creates working conditions that cause educators to respond differently, Fong said. An informal review of California school districts found about 150 – and likely more – had offered teachers some type of early retirement incentive in recent years.
Teri Clark, director of professional services at the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, worries there might not be enough teachers to take the place of retirees.
"Clearly, sometime – we don't know if it's one year, two years, five years, six years – sometime in the future, there's going to be a teacher shortage because of the retirement and because the programs aren't preparing the full volume," she said.
The commission reported that the number of new teachers fell 6.5 percent in 2010-11 from the year prior, to 18,734. The report [PDF], to be presented at a commission meeting tomorrow, noted the decrease was smaller than in recent years. Since 2004-05, the number of teaching credentials issued has shrunk by one-third.
All three teacher preparation routes – California universities, district internships and out-of-state training – issued fewer credentials in 2010-11 than in the year prior. Overall, teaching staff in California public schools was down 1.4 percent in 2010-11.
Budget cuts and growing class sizes mean there are fewer classrooms to fill. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs is down because people are uncertain whether there will be teaching jobs available, Clark said.
There will certainly be greater demand for new teachers as more retire, Fong said. Yet there's a small but growing percentage of teachers bucking the retirement trend: Educators who have gone back to work in the state's public schools after retirement climbed from 3 percent in 1995-96 to more than 11 percent in recent years.
Those educators – often teachers with specialized skills, such as in teaching special education students or English learners – could be filling unmet demand, Fong said. He expects the percentage of retirees returning to work to hold steady in coming years.
"It's our belief that these teachers are being pulled back into the workforce," he said.