Teacher Shortage

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To express concern regarding the difficulty of school leaders to staff teaching positions in certain subject areas and geographic regions, and to offer policy recommendations that will help ensure each student is taught by highly prepared and effective teachers.

Issue

News reports and research released by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) in 2016 point to a growing teacher shortage nationwide that is "reaching crisis proportions" in some fields and locations. The supply and demand estimates contained in the LPI report predicted a shortage of approximately 64,000 teachers in the 2015-16 school year. However, data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics showed that the percentage of public high schools that reported difficult-to-staff teaching positions (i.e., positions principals reported were very difficult to fill or could not be filled in a specific subject area) were lower in every subject area over a 10-year period. Similarly, the percentage of middle schools reporting at least one difficult-to-staff teaching position dropped from 48 percent in 1999-2000 to 17 percent in 2011-12. The president of the National Council on Teacher Quality has also challenged the data in the LPI report, noting that the demand data presume student-to-teacher class size ratios to decrease from the current average of 16.1:1 to 15.3:1. Using the current average, "the shortage disappears entirely."

While the debate on this national data is unsettled, the fact cannot be ignored that many school leaders struggle to find qualified candidates for all of the teaching positions in their schools. According to the Education Commission of the States, urban, rural, high-poverty, high-minority, and low-achieving schools face the most persistent staffing challenges. Middle and high schools, in particular, face challenges in filling positions in special education, math, science, foreign language, applied technology, and ESL. School leaders also report finding teachers of color, male teachers, and bilingual teachers, most representative of the communities they serve, to be extremely difficult.

Although fewer people entered teacher preparation programs during the Great Recession, of greater concern is the number of teachers leaving the profession. LPI estimates that 19 to 30 percent of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years, and the turnover is even greater in high-need schools. While salaries, greater accountability and general working conditions contribute to teacher attrition, building level administrative support has a huge impact on a teacher's decision to leave or stay in a particular school. An analysis of the 2012-13 Teacher Follow-up Survey by Richard Ingersoll at the University of Pennsylvania found that 66 percent of teachers cited dissatisfaction with school administration as motivation for leaving their schools. LPI also conducted an analysis of the annual Schools and Staffing Survey and found that new teachers who had at least one semester of practice teaching were more than three times less likely to leave the profession after a year than those who had no practice teaching.  

To address the teacher shortage, the priority for policymakers and school leaders should be providing the resources and support (time, money, mastery, authority, and autonomy) to recruit and retain the right teachers with the right qualifications in the schools that need them the most.