LOS ANGELES — Years of pink slips have taken a toll on California's teachers to be sure, but the dim job market has also had an impact on people wanting to become teachers at a time when the state's population of children reaching school age is rising.
While the numbers do not yet signal an outright teacher shortage, officials say they point to a worrisome trend of a graying workforce and fewer entrants into what has traditionally been one of the bulwark professions of the middle class.
"We've been worrying about this for a while," said Juliet Tiffany-Morales, research analyst for SRI International who has studied education trends. "A shortage could materialize. There's definitely a smaller pool of people going into teaching."
So far, the profession is holding its own because school districts have increased class sizes to cope with teacher layoffs, and the number of retiring teachers has more or less equaled the number of new teachers, Tiffany-Morales said. Both figure in the 15,000 to 20,000 range.
But a pinch could arise with a predicted steady rise of 1.4 percent in the state's population of school-age children over the next decade, a new transitional kindergarten grade for 4-year-olds that went into effect this fall and the introduction of national curriculum standards which will require retraining that some older teachers may not opt for.
"It's definitely something that people are keeping an eye on," said Holly Jacobson, director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd, which tracks teacher supply trends. "There are a lot of variables at play so it's hard to predict, but we're seeing a shift in teachers."
The biggest factor driving teacher demand is demographics. The state Department of Finance projects more than 87,000 more children will be entering school from the 2011-12 school year to 2021-22 — about 60,000 of them elementary schoolers with the Inland Empire counties seeing the biggest increases.
Meanwhile, teacher preparation programs are losing enrollment. At California State University, which trains half of the state's teachers, the dropoff has been huge: from more than 31,000 teaching students in 2002-03 to just 11,000 in 2010-11.
Statewide, teacher credentials have dropped from more than 27,000 issued in 2003-04 to 18,700 in 2010-11, according to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
"Probably the biggest factor has been the job market," said Beverly Young, CSU assistant vice chancellor of teacher education and public school programs.
The teacher workforce lost more than 23,000 teachers from 2008 to 2011, mostly due to layoffs caused by state funding cuts although there has also been a big increase in retirements, some through incentive programs, according to a report "Status of the Teaching Profession 2011" by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning.
Most of the laid off teachers were those newer to the profession in accordance with the state's last-hired-first-fired layoff policy, which has had a chilling effect on students contemplating teaching careers, Young said. "If you're a college student, you're seeing that happening," she said.
But Jacobson noted that while teaching has fewer new entrants, a shortage is likely not imminent. Thousands of laid off teachers are available for open positions should they arise. Some laid off teachers may move into other fields, but many continue to work as substitutes and are waiting to be called from rehiring lists, she said.