Is there really a teacher shortage? Yes, but it’s hitting some areas harder

Mathematics, special education, foreign languages and science continue to see the most severe shortages
By: | October 18, 2021
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The popular narrative of vast teacher shortages brought to crisis levels by the COVID pandemic could saddle the nation with solutions that will only worsen the problem.

That because’s supply and demand pressures aren’t creating severe shortages everywhere or in all subjects, says a new report, “In Demand: The Reak Teacher Shortages and How to Solve Them,” from FutureEd, a Georgetown University think tank, and the consulting firm EducationCounsel.

“Efforts to produce more teachers overall could wind up increasing the supply of teachers in grades, subjects, and locations where there are already surpluses, rather than addressing schools’ actual instructional needs,” says the report’s author, Sandi Jacobs, a principal at EducationCounsel. “As a result, these efforts may further widen inequities in the distribution of teacher talent.”

Most states report not having quite enough teachers across all subjects but mathematics, special education, foreign languages and science continue to see the most severe and chronic shortages.

One reason is that prospective high school teachers typically graduate with a major in their content area, which—particularly in science and math—make these candidates attractive to employees outside education who can offer higher salaries. A 2019 Brookings Institution analysis found that science, technology, engineering and math majors take the biggest wage hit for choosing to teach compared to other college graduates.

When it comes to geography, rural districts, urban districts, and schools with large proportions of underserved students also face more severe shortages. “The racial diversity shortage is particularly challenging because it requires addressing problems with the teacher pipeline as well as longstanding inequities in educational opportunity for people of color,” Jacobs says.

One solution to this challenge is to increase investments that help grow teacher-preparation programs at historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, tribal colleges and other minority-serving institutions.

Although MSIs represent just 13% of the county’s educator-preparation programs, they produce more than half of the nation’s teachers of color.

School districts can also create and expand grow-your-own programs with an explicit focus on building pipelines of diverse candidates. For example, the Washington, D.C., charter school network KIPP DC created its own Capital Teaching Residency. Teachers who commit to working at KIPP DC schools for at least three years receive one-on-one coaching and continued support as they become lead teachers and earn their teaching certificates.

Nearly three-quarters of the current participants identify as people of color and 25% of current KIPP principals started their careers in the residency.

“Instead of simplistic narratives and generic responses that may waste resources, states and districts need more sophisticated supply-and-demand data than most have today, so they can design targeted strategies to produce and retain the educators they truly need,” Jacobs says.

Here are more top strategies for policymakers and district leaders to fill shortages in key areas:

  • Candidate incentives: Offer tuition assistance and loan forgiveness to teacher candidates who will work in shortage areas, with the amount of the incentives based on the severity of shortages.
  • Program incentives and accountability: Provide increased funding and higher ratings to preparation programs that produce more teachers in shortage areas.
  • Program design: Preparation programs should offer field experiences in urban and rural settings that emphasize inclusive pedagogy.
  • Grow-your-own programs/residencies: Promote train-in-place preparation programs offered by schools districts and other organizations that offer apprenticeships. Build up certification pathways for paraprofessionals and other district employees.
  • Alternate routes: Create streamlined, flexible certification pathways that will appeal to non-traditional teaching candidates.
  • Compensation: Provide higher pay for teaching high-need subjects and in high-need settings, and offer signing bonuses to teachers in harder-to-fill areas.
  • School Leadership: Develop principal pipelines that produce school leaders skilled in recruiting and retaining teachers.
  • Working Conditions: Conduct climate surveys to identify teacher needs and address concerns that lead to turnover.