covereng.jpg (10339 bytes)
1x20.gif (45 bytes)

Minister’s Task Force on Teacher Supply Toiled Mightily, But Results Are Meagre

63c.jpg (23748 bytes) The capacity to accurately estimate how many new teachers will be needed in subject areas that suffer chronic shortages would help the education system to develop the right mix of teachers to address the problem.

"I think people went into that task force with a lot of hope that it was really going to identify some good solutions and that there would be some positive change as a result of it. And there were some really excellent ideas that came forward. So there’s an opportunity here for everyone involved to do some things that will improve the situation. It would be a real shame if that opportunity was missed."
Anne Clement, Executive Director, Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario

By Lois Browne

One year after a high-profile education task force recommended 36 strategies for tackling a growing shortage of teachers, the lack of co-ordinated action has task force members and other education stakeholders worried that time may be running out to deal with the problem effectively.

The provincial government, which set up the task force after the College expressed concerns about the aging of the teacher population, has not moved on most strategies unanimously agreed on by all those who participated. The next crunch in teacher supply is expected when the window closes in 2002 for 85-factor retirement.

The Ontario College of Teachers had reported in 1998 (Professionally Speaking, December 1998) that, based on an examination of the age distribution of teachers licensed to teach in Ontario, more than 78,000 teachers would retire by 2008.

The College report, which supported warnings being made by many education administrators, put the issue of teacher supply in the public eye. The government responded by creating the Minister’s Task Force on Teacher Recruitment and Renewal to "ensure that there is a qualified teacher in every classroom in Ontario."

The task force brought together virtually every sector in education – represented by organizations such as the College of Teachers, the Ontario Teachers’ Federation (OTF), the Council of Directors of Education, the deans of the faculties of education and principals’ representatives – to develop strategies to address teacher shortages.

The ministry was also represented on the task force by a deputy minister, three assistant deputy ministers and a consultant, which reinforced beliefs that the government was serious about developing effective strategies that would mitigate the worsening problem of teacher shortages.

Working groups were set up to examine the problem from different perspectives – information and data management, communications and outreach, teacher education, and incentives and flexible work arrangements for teachers.

In January 1999, the task force submitted its report to then-Minister of Education Dave Johnson. The report recommended strategies ranging from concrete actions that would help recruit more people to teaching and keep them in the profession, to others that would encourage greater co-operation among the various stakeholders to plan the development and management of the teaching workforce.

"I was very pleased with what the task force was able to accomplish and I was also pleased that all the significant educational stakeholders were sitting around the table and participating. There was good solid input from those who had the most knowledge of the issue," says Susan Langley, Secretary-Treasurer of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation and a task force member.

Ontario faculties of education accepted an additional 1,056 candidates in 1999-2000, more than twice the number supported by the Ministry of Education’s additional financing. minister1.jpg (122342 bytes)

Among the many strategies suggested to the Minister, one of the few that has been followed up is the recommendation to increase spaces in the faculties of education teacher training programs. The government agreed to finance 500 more spaces for 1999-2000 and to fund these extra spaces for four years.

"It was our expectation that when the government agreed to increase spaces at the faculties of education, that was merely step one, and that the other recommendations would roll out," says Langley.

"There was a degree of urgency on that one. A decision had to be made very early in the year for the faculties to do their planning for the fall term. We all understood that, and we agreed that it should go ahead. All of us, I think, have been absolutely shocked at the lack of action on any other initiative that was part of the plan."

The OTF has raised the issue since with the Ministry of Education on more than one occasion, but the response has not been encouraging, says Langley. Other members of the task force have also asked senior members of the education ministry about government’s plans for the recommended strategies.

"The only thing I can think is that the government may feel that because the number of applications to faculties of education increased dramatically last year, there is no longer a problem. I just don’t think that any others on the task force feel the same way."

However, neither Dave Johnson nor his successor Janet Ecker have ever formally responded to the task force report or publicly released its recommendations. A ministry spokesperson said recently that officials have not yet had an opportunity to fully brief the new minister on the task force’s work.

As Frank McIntyre notes in his article on page 22, the faculties of education managed to accept an additional 1,056 candidates in 1999-2000, more than twice what the ministry supported with additional financing.

The increase in applications and enrolments underscores the need to follow up on the other strategies, says Allen Pearson, Dean of the Faculty of Education of the University of Western Ontario. He represented Ontario faculties of education on the task force.

"The new spaces will help in a major way to address the supply of teachers. But work on data collection has not gone forward, which means we’re operating blind in filling those spaces. We don’t know where the emphasis should be in preparing people to teach specific subjects," says Pearson.

Information and Data Management Working Group


  1. Create and implement a collection process from school boards for information on current teacher shortages.
  2. Collect college applicant profiles for September 1999 intake.
  3. Draw up current retirement eligibility profile from Ontario Pension Plan and Ontario College of Teachers sources.
  4. Collect baseline information on extracts from ministry September reports.
  5. Collect job location decisions by faculty grads.
  6. Collect faculty profiles of the students in concurrent programs by division and teachable subject.


  1. Develop integrated data base from existing data.
  2. Develop demographic projections.
  3. Implement additional information elements to support enhanced planning and forecasting.
  4. Collect salary grid information.
  5. Give school boards access to teacher retirement eligibility data.

There have long been chronic teacher shortages in mathematics, science, technology and French as a Second Language. Being able to accurately estimate how many new teachers will be needed in these and other areas would enable the education system to develop the right mix of teachers. Consequently, one of the task force working groups was given the mandate to develop strategies for data collection and management.

The group recommended a number of ways in which the data collected by a variety of education organizations, such as the Ontario College of Teachers, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, the Ontario Universities Application Centre and the Ministry of Education, could be used for better forecasting and planning. But the strategy involves a number of issues regarding exchange of information and respect for individual privacy that require co-ordination by a central body. "Somebody needs to take leadership on the issue," says Anne Clement, who represented principals’ organizations on the task force. Clement, who is Executive Director of the Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario, says, "I think for individual school boards or universities it is going to be difficult. It seems that a central agency should be leading the initiative, whether it’s the ministry or the College of Teachers, and then consulting with the various groups about how it can be done."

Technology studies is repeatedly raised as one sector where there is an ongoing shortage of teachers because education is competing with other sectors, such as business, for trained people. "We tried to point out that young people with science and maths degrees are not going into teaching to start at $30,000, when they can go into other areas and start at $60,000," says Langley. "They’re not prepared to be that altruistic."

Among the recommendations that have not been acted on are suggestions to encourage teachers to train in the area of technological studies by providing bursaries or other special funding and making arrangements for experienced people to start higher up on the salary grid.

"When you look at the high need in these areas and the small numbers of students who are choosing to teach these subjects, there is a wild discrepancy. It’s a real problem," says Pearson.

Communications and Outreach
  1. Establish a collaborative work group to develop a provincial web site to post all teaching positions and mandate its use by regulation – working group recommended
  2. Develop targeted communications materials for senior, elementary, high school students and university students promoting teaching as a career choice – College of Teachers produced Thinking About Becoming a Teacher.
  3. Implement a high profile consultation among teachers on a significant policy initiative, embedding the communications activities with messages that support the value of teacher input/comments.
  4. Provide outreach/orientation programs for new immigrants through community organizations.
  5. Encourage businesses or other organizations (for example, libraries) to offer discounts/memberships to teachers.
  6. Participate in existing employment fairs to promote the teaching profession – College of Teachers now participates in about a dozen job fairs annually.
  7. Develop a short-term and long-term communications plan that would communicate positive messages about teaching, provide some insight into what attracts people to teaching.
  8. Encourage awareness that it takes instructional time to supervise a teacher candidate’s practicum and to be trained to deliver a new curriculum.

The shortage of teachers is already beginning to aggravate an even greater shortage of school administrators. Teachers with principal’s qualifications are retiring at an even greater rate than classroom teachers. In 1998, it was forecast that 64 per cent of those with principal’s qualifications were likely to retire within a decade.

It was an issue that Clement repeatedly raised with the task force. The group decided that the issue of shortage of principals would not be separated out from the general issue of a shortage of trained teachers. "But by the time the task force adjourned, there was a fairly clear understanding of issues around recruitment of principals and that it would be taken up this year by the Ministry of Education," says Clement. She says that although there have been conversations with ministry staff about her concerns since then, there has been little action.

Now, as the need for administrators intensifies, pressure is beginning to build for classroom teachers to fill the void, putting further strain on teacher supply.

Grant Yeo represented directors of education on the task force. He is director of education of one of the fastest-growing school boards in Ontario, the Durham District School Board, and he confirms that opportunities for teachers to move into administration are already growing faster than in the past. That means teachers have fewer years of experience before they apply to become a principal and school boards have had to find their own solutions.

"We have conducted surveys and meetings with teachers to see what we can do in terms of getting their credentials, for example. If we can help the faculties run courses, we do that, but we also have internal training programs for teachers interested in getting principal’s qualifications," says Yeo.

Another of the task force’s working groups was charged with developing communications and outreach strategies that would promote teaching as a career choice, increase enrolment in Ontario faculties of education and establish a centrally managed Internet site for posting all teaching positions in Ontario.

Regulations determine how school boards must advertise teaching positions but a regulatory change would enable them to use the Internet for advertising – a less expensive and more timely tool. The task force recommended that such a change be made.

"My understanding was that a web site had all been agreed to by the directors of education and by the ministry, and follow up wasn’t going to cost anything. But I don’t think anything has happened about it," says Langley.

A web site already exists ( that could be used more widely by school boards, but until the government proceeds with the regulatory change, boards must continue to pay for expensive newspaper advertisements.

Some Ontario school boards have moved their recruiting forward to fill their requirements for the following September.

Kevin Kobus, director of education for the fast-growing Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board and a member of a task force working group, says his board has had to change its hiring practices to adapt.

"We knew there would be a teacher shortage for the 1999 school year, so where we might normally offer contracts in May or June, we actually offered contracts at our January 29 job fair," says Kobus. "That’s about three months early. The sense we had was that if we didn’t get to the market early, the best graduates were going to be snapped up by other boards."

School boards, with the help of the College of Teachers, have also been trying to attract retired teachers or qualified teachers who had left the profession, back into the classroom. This strategy has met with some success, but it means that when the time comes for the next wave of resignations, there will be no surplus teachers left to draw on.

It also means that flexibility in the teacher supply is disappearing. The Durham board has been able to meet its need to hire about 300 full-time teachers each year through aggressive recruitment strategies, but now they’re starting to see a real problem getting occasional teachers, says Grant Yeo.

"With our secondary schools, we need somewhere around 50 occasional teachers each day. We have a roster of over 250 teachers for this purpose, but there are days when we can’t get what we need – mainly because many of them have gone to other jobs," says Yeo.

Many Canadian teachers in recent years have found work in the United States, and that drain on teachers may present even more of a problem in the future. At a recent conference on teacher supply and demand in the U.S., hosted by National Evaluation Services Inc., educators from across North America gathered to exchange information that underscored the geographical scope of the problem.

According to information presented at the conference, many U.S. states are experiencing serious shortages in subject areas similar to Ontario – the sciences, mathematics, special education and technology – with additional shortages in inner cities and poorer districts. The U.S., which is currently Ontario’s largest source of teachers educated outside Canada, estimates it will need approximately 2.2 million new teachers over the next 10 years.

Some American employers have begun to collect and share information on the problem, recruit via the Internet, offer salary bonuses and other financial incentives in hard-to-fill areas and provide alternative teacher education programs aimed at minority and inner city paraprofessionals. These are similar to many of the recommendations made by the working groups, suggesting there is a stronger impetus to address the problem south of the border.

Other jurisdictions are actively recruiting in Ontario and other parts of Canada – often for teachers of subjects where shortages in Ontario are the greatest. School boards here are also hearing from teachers who want to return home, but without better monitoring of the trend, there is no way of knowing how much that will affect teacher demand.

"The increased job availability is an opportunity for some who have gone to other countries to come back, and that is happening, but I have no idea of the balance of those going and coming," says Yeo.

Incentives/Flexible Arrangements
  1. Target funding to faculties of education.
  2. Develop mentoring program for new teachers.
  3. Provide financial assistance for students in pre-service and in-service programs.
  4. Re-employ retired teachers.
  5. Provide incentives to attract and retain teachers in high-need subject areas.
  6. Provide incentives to attract and retain teachers in high-need geographic areas.
  7. Provide compensation/job security for positions of added responsibility including principals/vice-principals.
  8. Expand Catholic school boards’ hiring practices.

All of the task force members representing education stakeholder organizations express disappointment or frustration that there has been much less action on their recommendations than they had hoped.

"I think the recommendations we made were well founded. There was considerable input into needs from across the province for elementary and secondary and specific teaching areas. The recommendations should continue to be reviewed and acted on," says Grant Yeo.

Allen Pearson says the task force was an opportunity for the important players in education to work together in a mutually supportive and congenial forum to identify the problems and find strategies. But the lack of progress worries him.

"It needs leadership. We were left with the understanding that something would happen and it hasn’t. The ministry has a leadership role to play and I would like to see the task force reconvened."

College Registrar Margaret Wilson, who was also a member of the task force, says the College is anxious to move forward on developing better statistical sources.

"The College urgently needs to improve its capacity to provide advice to the faculties on the need for specific teaching skills. At least the data collection and management working group should be reconvened immediately to examine how all stakeholders can contribute to better predictions about demand," says Wilson.

"The issues of targeted enrolment and incentives to increase the number of teachers of specific subjects requires the input of broader sector of stakeholders. I hope the ministry returns to this task soon," says Wilson.