The Many Pieces of the Teacher Shortage

Kelly Coash-Johnson, pHCLE

As the demand for public education increases, states will continue to struggle to recruit and retain high quality educators. For many states this increased need for teachers will come from simple demand, while others will struggle to replace an aging workforce. As of the fall of 2018, 50.7 million students will attend elementary and secondary schools with a projected increase to 52.1 million by 2027. For other states, the need for teachers will come due to various rules, regulations and laws set forth by state legislatures requiring more from our teachers. While educating our students appears to be consistent across the board, how we get educators in the right placements at the right time varies from state to state.
The lack of competitive compensation, to no surprise, is one factor that is frequently referenced as a contributing reason for the teacher shortage. Nationally, teachers earn about 20 percent less than individuals with college degrees in other fields. While we all can agree teachers everywhere deserve to be compensated appropriately and fairly, the national teacher shortage has many pieces that can and need to be addressed. Below are a few factors to consider.

  1. Declining Interest in the Profession
    According to a survey of the American Association of State Colleges and University, deans of colleges of education say the number one reason for the enrollment drop was the perception of teaching as an undesirable career. This perception has been exacerbated with the activities of this past year which included teacher walk outs and teacher strikes. National attention has been focused on not only teacher pay but also working conditions in schools and with students. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that the teaching profession is being asked to do more with less.
  2. Declining Enrollment in Teacher Training Programs
    Between 2007-08 and 2015-16, there has been a 23 percent decline in the number of people completing teacher-preparation programs. Some say this decline follows the increasing costs for education majors while most data points to the decline in the interest of teaching overall. With more focus given to careers in engineering and sciences, it should be no surprise that with more educational options comes more decline in areas such as teaching.

  3. Teacher Retention/Turnover
    A bigger issue with regards to the teacher shortage lies in the data surrounding retention. In 2012 alone, about 16 percent of teachers left their district with more than half leaving the profession all together. About 30 percent of new teacher leave the occupation within their first five years. With this information, districts are now changing their strategies to look deep into the data surrounding their own retention rates. While many will leave a district because of low pay, most will leave because of workloads and working conditions. As the new generation of teachers come on board, schools will need to understand the needs of their clients and find ways to keep them engaged and retained.

All is not lost, changing the dialog continues to be a top priority. State law makers and educational associations in many states are working hard to find new, creative ways to address the issues facing why we can’t get enough quality teachers in the classroom.
While we monitor states throughout the country, we see creative strategies being put forth by state organizations and law makers.

With the high costs associated with traditional college programs discussed above, many states are overcoming these barriers by establishing scholarships and loan forgiveness programs to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. These programs are being funded at both the state level and district level and address both recruitment and retention.

Many states are also opting for economical policy solutions such as changing laws with regards to recruiting newly retired teachers. We have seen state legislation that reduces and sometimes even eliminates the requirements to “sit out” after taking retirement and returning to the classroom. Early reports indicate this solution is both economical and successful, allowing teachers to keep their retirement and bring in additional income. This option has also proven vital for some rural districts who are hit the hardest with the teacher shortage in many states.

Another strategy catching on involves licensure reciprocity. While schools seek to recruit outside of their geographical area, states need to lessen reciprocity rules to allow districts the opportunity to recruit from a larger pool of candidates. For districts who are also facing a lack in diverse candidates, allowing further reach is also a step in the right direction.

There is no secret sauce for districts who are facing teacher shortages now and in the future. Each district will need to capitalize on their strengths and find creative ways to lesson their weaknesses. A good place to start is by asking your current teachers. Why do they work for you? Why do they teach? What would they appreciate more in the future? I think you will find some great solutions if you ask the right questions.

Kelly Coash-Johnson, pHCLE, Executive Director, American Association of School Personnel Administrators

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