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Report Provides Numbers for Just How Bad Teacher Shortage Really Is

Report Provides Numbers for Just How Bad Teacher Shortage Really Is

We’re all familiar with the headlines. Year after year, every back-to-school season, districts make national news for having to go to extreme lengths to recruit teachers to fill vacancies—some which can reach into the hundreds for larger districts.

In other words, we’re all aware that our country suffers from a chronic teacher shortage. But just how bad is it?

According to a recently published report from the Learning Policy Institute, the numbers behind teacher supply and demand in the U.S. indicate that we’re only a little short from being in the middle of a full-blown crisis.

The report outlines four major reasons why the teacher shortage even exists:

  • A decline in teacher preparation enrollments
  • District efforts to return to pre-recession pupil-teacher ratios
  • Increasing student enrollment
  • High teacher attrition

In just a decade, the report anticipates an increase of three million students into the school-going population, although there’s no end in sight for the “leaky bucket” phenomenon that is causing hundreds of thousands of teachers to leave the profession before retirement.

And not only are teachers leaving the profession at an accelerated pace—less individuals are entering, as well.

"Between 2009 and 2014, the most recent years of data available, teacher education enrollments dropped from 691,000 to 451,000, a 35% reduction. This amounts to a decrease of almost 240,000 professionals on their way to the classroom in the year 2014, as compared to 2009,” the report says.

While a shortage of teachers is a national issue, the report acknowledges that some states, due to policy differences, have more issues than others. Additionally, high-poverty and high-minority schools most frequently have to deal with vacancies as opposed to schools in wealthier districts.

"Although each state uses slightly different definitions to report equity comparisons of underprepared and inexperienced teachers, all but a handful of states have a higher percentage of teachers not fully certified, inexperienced, or out of field in their high-poverty and high-minority schools than their low-poverty and low-minority schools,” the report says.

When combining several surveys from over the years, the report found that the number one reason teachers cite for leaving the profession is dissatisfaction. Over 50 percent of teachers say that their unhappiness with the profession is the main reason for leaving, with family/person reasons and retirement coming next. 

Specifically, teachers reported being most dissatisfied about assessments and accountability measures as well as with the career in general.

The report makes several policy recommendations states should adopt to end the crisis before further damage is done. In order to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, the report recommends:

  • Salary improvements for teachers
  • Higher quality teacher preparation programs
  • Better mentoring programs for new teachers
  • Improved and on-going professional development
  • Expanded opportunities for veteran educators to assume leadership positions

Incentives and salary hikes, the report says, is likely the number one way to get teachers to stay. In countries where the teacher profession is attractive, teachers are paid comparably to respected professionals like engineers. In contrast, teachers in the U.S. are currently significantly underpaid in comparison to any other professional with a similar education background.

Read the full report.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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