January 2023

The Pandemic in the Classroom

As expected, students suffered academically during the COVID pandemic. While students are now back in the classrooms, math and reading scores plummeted in 2022. Compared to 2019, math dropped 8 points in eighth grade and 5 points in fifth grade across the nation. Scores dropped 3 points in reading for both grades.

In California, fewer than half of the students (47%) passed the English language arts test, which was a 4 point drop from pre-pandemic 2018-2019. In math, only one third of the students passed, which was a 6% decline.

Stanford, USC and the UC system say that this massive decline has never been seen before and that this is an unprecedented challenge that we have to face. The disparities plaguing ethnic groups remain high, with 70% of Asian students scoring above the national standard, which is triple the rate for Latinos and Black students.

So what does this mean? We need to support our students as we ramp up our curriculum. But there’s a huge teacher shortage across the United States.

Remember when we used to give teachers shiny apples and gifts for the holidays? Those memories are long gone as students face classrooms with revolving doors for teachers, substitutes, and teacher aides. Some teachers are required to teach students with disabilities or English learners in addition to their regular classes because special education teachers are absent or didn’t return for the school year.

Many schools shut down when 30% of their staff and 25% of their students call in sick. Imagine that? Other schools are reverting to remote learning when there aren’t enough teachers to cover classes. Principals are even stepping in to teach several classes at once just to fill staffing gaps.

Teacher shortages aren’t equally spread out among subject areas. Special education teachers ranks the highest in shortages, followed by mathematics, science, and foreign language. And many teachers are having to step up to help in the cafeteria work and to work without instructional aides.

So how do we recruit and encourage college students to become teachers? First we need to pay them and give them benefits like the professionals they are. Consider this report that considered teacher wages in 26 industrialized countries: teachers in the United States ranked dead-last on the list of average pay – making only 60% of what other college graduates make.

In countries like Sweden, Germany, and Australia, teacher compensation is higher than 80% of other college graduates. And, US teachers work more hours than other countries.

Fewer college students are entering teaching careers today. Back in the 1970s, about 12% of students planned to become teachers. Today, only 4% of college students are pursuing teaching degrees. That comes as no surprise when teaching has become a thankless job that won’t even pay a livable wage.

With increased teacher vacancies, and a dramatic drop in college students entering the teaching field, several states have eased teacher certification requirements. Some schools issue emergency teaching credentials just to speed up the process to secure the certification.

In high schools, teachers are normally required to have a bachelor’s degree in the subjects they are credentialed to teach. While that makes sense because they need to have in-depth understanding of the subject to effectively teach a wide range of students to prepare them for higher education.

But some states, like Arizona, students can enter teacher training programs without a bachelor’s degree. The only requirement is that they enroll in college and they are supervised by licensed teachers.

In Florida, military veterans without bachelor’s degrees can receive a 5-year teacher certificate as long as they have 60 college credits (AA or community college degree) with a 2.5 GPA and pass a state exam to demonstrate their mastery of the subject-area knowledge.

This is appalling. Have we really devalued the education of our children – the youth who will take the reins and lead our nation? Teachers should be our most valued profession. They guide, mentor, and prepare all of our children to go out into the world. How will we be able to maintain our superpower status when our future leaders don’t have the academic acumen to compete on a world stage?


Susan Tatsui-D’Arcy is the founder of Merit Academy (one-on-one classes)and Merit Educational Consultants (college and educational advisory). She has written books on projects, free child care, education, and parenting. Susan hosts TEDxMeritAcademy for students to present their innovative projects and solutions. In 2019, she was California Mother of the Year.

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