Copyright © 2014 NM Street Press
Enrollment in New Mexico teacher training programs has declined substantially in the years since the recent recession bottomed out.
Since the fall of 2009, several New Mexico four-year universities have seen the number of students seeking teacher training decrease anywhere from 23 percent to 30 percent, according to data released by the individual schools.
New Mexico State University saw the biggest decline in the number of students seeking undergraduate and graduate education degrees of the four schools contacted.
In four years, students enrolled in education programs at NMSU shrank to 884 students or a 30 percent decrease from the 1,263 students that entered the program in fall of 2009.
NMSU College of Education Dean Michael Morehead says the decline can be attributed to several factors, including the profession’s historically low salaries and the barrage of negative coverage the profession has received in recent years.
“The career has difficulty keeping and attracting teachers in the state because of the incomparable pay,” Morehead said.“Teachers in El Paso Texas start at $10,000 more than in Las Cruces.”
“The national rhetoric—with all the negative reporting—there is a perception that the profession isn’t as valued as it used to be”– NMSU COE Dean Michael Morehead.He said to remedy the pay disparities from state to state, NM education officials should consider revising the three tier system that governs teacher raises.
Under the three tier system, New Mexico teachers start at $30,000 a year and can earn as much as $50,000 per year, base pay, providing they reach the third tier or “master teacher” status. Teachers can receive additional raises by earning National Board Certification.
But in order to go after board certification a teacher must pay most or all of the several thousand dollar registration fee out-of-pocket.
Morehead also cites a national partisan dialogue about education that casts teachers as ungrateful union sponges looking for easy pay checks. He says the negative stereotype is a deterrent to those wishing to enter the field.
“The national rhetoric—with all the negative reporting—there is a perception that the profession isn’t as valued as it used to be,” Morehead surmised.
National Education Association—New Mexico, the state’s largest teacher’s union, President Betty Patterson agrees with Morehead’s conclusion.
She says the environment outside of the classroom has gotten so contentious that many teachers are advising “their own children and students in their classes” to not follow in their foot steps by going into to teaching.
“Teachers are treated badly by everyone, salaries are remaining the same but insurance and retirement [cost] are going up,” Patterson said. “There are so many changes with teacher evaluations, common core [government mandated curriculum standards], new assessments that teachers are spending so much time on data and testing they are not able to teach.”
Conservative critics of public education say the state’s public education system needed fixing because among other things it fostered laziness and a lack of classroom accountability. In response to this criticism, New Mexico Public Education Department officials have implemented a stringent teacher evaluation system that bases 50 percent of a teacher’s professional assessment on students’ test scores.
Those against this evaluation system and other policy changes say they are unfair because teachers have no control over their students’ family situations, which in New Mexico often include poverty and other domestic instabilities.
UNM Also sees drop
The University of New Mexico didn’t fare much better with participation in its teacher training programs.
Enrollment in UNM’s College of Education fell by 26 percent to 1,016 students compared to the 1,378 that entered the program in 2009.
UNM Director of Communication Dianne Anderson says the school’s enrollment drop coincides with a nationwide downturn in the number of students seeking teacher training.
“These declines are part of the overall trend in teacher education enrollments seen in other colleges of education around the state, and in other states,” she says. “The declines can be attributed to the improving job market and in part to increasing competition for our students.”
In addition to UNM and NMSU, NM Street Press contacted New Mexico Highlands University and Eastern New Mexico University for this article. NMSU reported a 23 percent decline in student enrollment. ENMU didn’t respond to the request for data.
Patterson said the shortfall in enrollment will have a negative impact on all schools—in all districts. Patterson said the shortfall in enrollment will have a negative impact on all schools—in all districts.
She explains that if the trend continues and fewer students graduate from teacher education programs, it will be harder to replace those teachers who retire or transition into other professions.
“The problem is that classes are too large, we are having to combine classes and stop electives because of a shortage of teachers,” Patterson said.
Morehead agrees he adds that as an “advocate for the profession and for teachers” NMSU College of Education must come up with ways to attract more students.
One of the ways they hope to do this is use part of a substantial financial gift and unused grant money to provide scholarships for qualifying students to enter the College of Education program.
Albuquerque Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, has 95 open teaching positions posted on the district’s website. The district currently has 6, 326 teachers and librarians on its payroll.