Teacher shortages, at least the news about them, seems inescapable this year. For the next two weeks, we share many of the teacher shortage related stories that we encountered during our annual scan of back-to-school headlines. This week’s post focuses on articles from the US that discuss the shortage, describe the problems with the available data, and explore some of the efforts to deal with the challenges of hiring and retaining teachers; next week, Part 2 will draw together headlines about teacher shortages in other parts of the world.
As students headed back to school in the US in 2022, education news from many major education outlets raised concerns about shortages of teachers. Predictably, headlines describing a teacher shortage crisis were quickly followed by articles questioning whether there was a crisis at all. Matt Barnum, for example, noted both the reports describing a “catastrophic” teacher shortage as well as those expressing skepticism that there is sufficient evidence to support those claims (Is there a national teacher shortage? Here’s what we know and don’t know).
“The public narrative has gotten way ahead of the data and is even misleading in most cases,” Chad Alderman quoted in The Atlantic
Scanning the stories from the US suggests that there are indeed many places where districts and schools are having difficulty finding teachers to fill available positions. But whether or not and how much of a shortage there is varies from place to place, and by differences in the nature of the position (National Teacher Shortage? New Research Reveals Different Realities Between States). One recent report from the Annenberg Institute estimates that 36,504 full-time teaching positions in the US are unfilled — but shortages are localized in nine states. As one of the report authors, Tuan D. Nguyen, described it to Marianna McMurdock of The74 “There are substantial vacant teacher positions in the United States. And for some states, this is much higher than for other states. … It’s just a question of how severe it is” (National Teacher Shortage? New Research Reveals Different Realities Between States). Joshua Bleiberg and Matthew A. Kraft add in another analysis published by the Annenberg Institute that a lack of up-to-date, consistent data also makes it hard to track any shortages and complicates efforts to explain what might be happening and why (Inconsistent Data Inflate Concerns of Teacher ‘Mass Exodus,’ Paper Argues).
There may be many reasons for teachers to quit. In particular, one survey showed that fifty-nine percent of teachers say they’re burned out, compared to 44 percent of other workers. But it’s not clear the extent to which the number of teachers leaving the profession is significantly greater than it has been previously. Richard Ingersoll and colleagues have long highlighted challenges of staffing schools, pointing to problems with retaining as well as hiring new teachers (NEPC Talks Education). Furthermore, the shortages of teachers are being reported at the same time there have been recent declines in student enrollment and an increase in hiring of teachers and other support staff that has come along with the influx of federal funding to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “[I]s it useful to use the term shortage,” Derek Thompson wondered in The Atlantic, “when, compared with staff numbers before the pandemic, more teachers might be employed in America’s public schools right now than in 2019?” (There Is No National Teacher Shortage).
‘Never seen it this bad’: America faces catastrophic teacher shortage, The Washington Post
How bad is the teacher shortage? It depends on where you live, The New York Times
Why teachers are leaving and what we can do about it, Marshall et. al., Phi Delta Kappan
Schools Are Looking in Unusual Places to Deal With Teacher Shortage, Wall Street Journal
Breaking the Legacy of Teacher Shortages, Linda Darling-Hammond, Educational Leadership