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Study shows drop in educator vacancies across New Mexico

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Total educator vacancies are down compared with last year, but the state still has 889 positions open, ranging from educational assistants and counselors to school psychologists. And 571 – or nearly two out of three – of those openings are for teachers.

“I think 571 open positions a month into the school year, I think does seem like a lot to have,” said Rachel Boren, director of the Southwest Outreach Academic Research Evaluation and Policy Center at New Mexico State University.

The vacancy tallies, which are as of Sept. 25, were reported in the 2020 New Mexico Educator Vacancy Report, which is prepared by NMSU’s College of Education SOAR Evaluation and Policy Center.

Researchers primarily studied school districts’ online job postings, analyzing the numbers through a database. The study doesn’t include charter and private schools.

Last year, there were 1,054 educator vacancies in the state, and 644 of those were for teachers.

Boren noted that this is a highly unusual year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is affecting student enrollment and could affect the number of job openings.

Boren told the Journal that it’s possible school districts are posting fewer positions because there are fewer students.

“I think with circumstances right now just so extraordinary and unprecedented, it’s hard to say why we’re seeing a decrease in the vacancies this year,” she said.

“I’m curious to see next year how the numbers look,” she added.

At a recent virtual news conference, state Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said it’s still too soon to tell how the pandemic will affect the teacher workforce down the road. But he said the department is encouraged that the latest report shows vacancies going down.

“We know that this pandemic is really creating a lot of uncertainty that’s out there, and at this point, it’s hard to predict what the long term would be,” he said.

Like last year, the state needs elementary and special education teachers the most, the report shows. Combined, the two make up roughly 56% of the vacancies.

“When breaking down the teacher vacancies by grade level and general area, the largest need was for elementary teachers (163 teachers, 29% of the total teacher vacancies), followed closely by special education teachers (153 teachers; 27% of the total teacher vacancies),” the report says.

The subjects with the most vacancies among classroom teachers are the same as last year, too – math, science and English.

Looking at the data geographically, the central area of the state, which includes Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe Public Schools, needs the most teachers with 258 vacancies. That’s down from 309 last year.

The report doesn’t show vacancies per student. Boren said it isn’t surprising that the central area has the highest number of vacancies because that aligns with past trends, and the largest school district in the state, Albuquerque Public Schools, is in the region.

While most other areas of the state had decreases, there was an 18% increase in vacancies in the northwest, which includes Los Alamos Public Schools and Gallup McKinley County Schools, among others.

New Mexico also had more prospective teachers compared with the year before.

According to the report, 1,287 students were admitted into an educator preparation program in the 2019-20 school year, and 927 completed a program. “This is an increase of 193 admits and 181 completers from last year’s totals,” the report states.

Still, compared with about a decade ago, there’s some catching up to do. In the 2009-10 school year, 1,318 people completed an educator preparation program, according to the report.

In a written statement, Henrietta Williams Pichon, interim dean of the NMSU College of Education, praised the improvement while recognizing the need for educators across the state.

“This report reminds us that although we are making strides in reducing the number of vacancies in school districts, we still have significant work to do in New Mexico. Let’s hope we keep moving in this positive direction,” she said.

571 positions open; impact of COVID unclear

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