As schools are nearing the halfway point of the first post-pandemic semester, districts are still battling an issue that existed long before COVID: teacher shortages.
Made-up political controversies and far-from-desirable wages and working conditions are driving America’s teachers out of the profession. Most of all, they’re not earning the respect they deserve.
“It’s a wonder we have any,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, regarding those who are currently willing to teach. The solution to this crisis is right in front of us, but ultimately educators are dictated by those in power who haven’t stepped foot in a classroom since they were last in school.
“We’ve got to think about those solutions from an overarching place of elevating the education profession in a way that demonstrates the respect our educators need and deserve,” she said.
Schools can start this process now by offering teachers competitive pay, according to Heidi Shierholz, president of the Economic Policy Institute. “The level of pay in these jobs means an ongoing struggle for these workers to provide for themselves and their families,” she explained.
Furthermore, schools have the resources available to them to begin putting teachers at the center of the conversation: COVID relief funds. “In the short run, COVID relief can and should be used right now to raise pay for teachers and other education staff so that schools can attract and retain the staff they need,” she said.
Among districts that are empowering their teachers with these funds, how are the resources being distributed? A new report from FutureEd, a solution-oriented think tank, analyzes the spending plans of 5,000 school districts and charter organizations across the country, representing 74% of U.S. public school students. Additionally, they look at how the 100 largest school districts plan to use their ESSR funds to support their teachers.
A look at the 100 largest districts
More than 80% of these districts report investing in professional development and equipping educators with valuable skills and knowledge.
“Among the 100 largest school districts, 82 plan to use the federal aid to train teachers on such topics as evidence-based instructional approaches, family engagement strategies, and new technology platforms,” the report reads.
Additionally, 35 districts plan to use their funding on literary-specific training, “including a significant focus on evidence-based practices associated with the ‘science of reading,'” according to the report.
Other areas of training include:
- General: 55
- Other academic training: 47
- SEL or mental health: 36
- Special ed or ELL: 17
- Equity or diversity: 12
- Technology: 12
Hiring and paying teachers
65% of districts plan to provide their educators with increased salaries and benefits. In addition to these plans, districts report intent to hire math or reading specialists for targeted instruction, smaller classroom sizes and hiring more teachers.
According to the data, most districts are prioritizing hiring specialists:
- Interventionists/specialists: 39
- Core teachers: 30
- ELL and special ed teachers and staff: 14
- Virtual teachers: 13
Additional pay and stipends
Most intriguingly, fewer districts are investing in supplemental pay for the extra work teachers are doing as a result of a lack in teachers or to help students recover. Only 33% of districts are using ESSER funding to pay teachers for working additional hours.
Yet, including extra learning time in the budget has been met with resistance. According to the report, the United Teachers Los Angeles voted to boycott the first learning day planned in October, although the Los Angeles Unified School District budgeted $122 million to create three additional days of professional development and four extra days of learning for students. The union described it as a “waste of taxpayers’ dollars.”
Here’s how districts are allocating these funds in this area:
- Offering extra pay for extended hours: 21
- Tutoring: 6
- Teaching additional periods of the day: 5
- Curriculum development/planning time: 5
Retention and recruitment
One of the most important issues schools continue to target is recruiting and retaining their teachers. The common ways districts are doing this is by providing bonuses and pouring into the teacher pipeline:
- Offering bonuses: 31
- Bonuses for special ed, ELL, specific subjects, hard-to-staff schools, or effective teachers: 15
- Investing in teacher pipelines, including grow-your-own programs and residencies: 15
Schools have at least two more years to spend their COVID relief funds, the report explains. “Determining which interventions have worked the best—which Covid-relief bets to double down on post-academic recovery—will be a key task of education policymaking at all levels in the years ahead,” the report concludes.