Teacher shortages are a growing problem that affect communities around the world. Like many countries, the United States is not immune to this crisis. Reports show the shortage of teachers is growing in the U.S., after already increasing sharply over several years.
By 2025, the Economic Policy Institute estimated we can expect that the national teacher shortage will result in roughly 110,000 fewer teachers than the country needs. The organization suggested we may be underestimating the severity of the problem. It stated, “The estimates consider the new qualified teachers needed to meet new demand. However, not all current teachers meet the education, experience and certification requirements associated with being a highly qualified teacher.”
Looking at the 2016 National Teacher and Principal Survey by the U.S. Department of Education, it’s clear that not all teachers hold all credentials recommended or have adequate experience. In fact, 8.8% of teachers were not fully certified in the 2015-2016 school year. Furthermore, only 22.4% had five or more years of experience. Those percentages have grown significantly since the 2011-2012 school year and are more severe in high-poverty school districts.
The problem is not contained to one region or state in our country. The Guardian reached out to all states’ departments and boards of education and found, of the 41 that responded, 28 are experiencing teacher shortages.
Furthermore, societies around the globe struggle with shortages of qualified teachers. Data from UNESCO Institute for Statistics shows that, 33 countries will not have enough qualified teachers to educate all children by 2030. Luckily, clear causes are emerging that help lead us to solutions.
Causes of Teacher Shortages
The direct causes of teacher shortages are hard to pinpoint because they differ from place to place. The 74, a non-profit new site covering America education, stated, “Across 50 states and the District of Columbia, six territories and more than 13,000 distinct districts, there are unique teacher shortages in specific subject areas, school types and geographies.”
The 74 found that many states suffer with subject-area specific shortages. For example, not enough special education teachers or educators trained in English as a second language (ESL). The U.S. Department of Education reported that 75% of states have shortages of math, science and special education teachers.
Compounding these shortages is that most teachers aren’t staying in the profession long. More than half of teachers leave the education field within their first five years in the United States. The Learning Policy Institute pointed to a few reasons for the teacher shortage, including:
- Salaries: Low pay influences teacher turnover. Educators are more likely to quit in districts that offer low wages, and 67% of teachers rated an increase in salary as “extremely” or “very important” to their decision to return to teaching.
- Costs to Entry: Teachers who are not fully prepared are more likely to leave. But the rising costs of education and testing keep many people from entering teaching careers with the proper credentials.
- Hiring Processes: Many schools and districts use outdated technology and hire teachers late in the year, giving them less time to prepare for the role and leading to the appointment of lower quality teachers.
- Working Conditions: Administrative support is the top reason that teachers cite for leaving or staying in the profession. Opportunities for collaboration are also important, as well as accountability. Schools with plenty of resources and reasonable student-to-teacher ratios can better attract and retain teachers.
It’s clear that changes will have to be made to address the teacher shortage crisis. Across the nation and globe, communities are experimenting with ways to address the shortage of teachers.
Solutions to Teacher Shortages
Around the world, groups have tried various teacher shortage solutions. Although the reasons for deficiencies differ from place-to-place, these tactics may help alleviate the teacher shortage crisis. Here’s how some policymakers, business leaders and school districts are taking the teacher shortage head on.
Some schools are beginning to use technology as a solution to the teacher shortage crisis. Frisco ISD in Texas, one of the fastest growing school districts in the nation is currently experimenting with virtual staffing to meet their continually growing demand for teachers.
This tactic can also be helpful for keeping qualified educators teaching during natural disasters. After flooding in St. Helena, Louisiana, schools incorporated virtual staffing to deal with the tragedy of many teachers losing their homes. This helped them avoid the need for long-term substitute teachers.
Because of technology, virtual staffing allows teachers and students to communicate in real time, even if they can’t be in the same place. This helps incentivize teachers to work in areas they wouldn’t have otherwise considered and cuts relocation costs.
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When virtual means aren’t used, relocation and housing costs can hit teachers hard, especially in areas where teaching salaries are low. Some areas are combating that with housing incentives.
Battle Creek Public Schools in Michigan offer money to buy homes to teachers, softening the financial blow of moving to their district. In 2017, Battle Creek received a $1.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg foundation for entrepreneurs in struggling neighborhoods. This grant included $750,000 to put toward a housing incentive program for teachers and administrators who commit to the district for three years and live in eligible neighborhoods. This program not only helps teachers come to the area but may help decrease turnover.
In San Francisco, where housing costs get incredibly high, a start-up called Landed wants to help teachers pay for half of a down payment on their home. They partnered with 35 school districts in the San Francisco Bay area, as well as Denver and Los Angeles. Backed by huge foundations like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the company hopes to grow this program to other districts overtime.
Tutoring for Certification
Incentives and creative staffing won’t help if teachers can’t get certified. In many states, teachers must pass the Praxis exams with high scores. The tests measure those hoping to be teachers’ knowledge in a variety of subjects. The tests are challenging and costly to take.
A nonprofit called Regional Initiatives for Sustainable Education (RISE) offers tutoring for the Praxis, which for many aspiring teachers is much needed given the intense nature of the exams. This Delta-based program is extremely vital in Mississippi where many teachers are lacking certification.
The state has stepped in as well. In July 2018, Mississippi hired a full-time employee to focus on helping more teachers gain certification and improve recruitment and retention. This new staff member expanded Praxis prep programs throughout the state and secured a grant to create new ways for teachers to get licensed.
In Finland, annual opinion polls repeatedly show teaching as the country’s most admired profession. In fact, primary school teaching is the most sought career in the country. Why? There’s a competitive selection process, like that of law programs or medical school programs. The country also pays special attention to the working conditions of teachers. Qualified teachers have the space to be autonomous, collaborate and engage in research and curriculum design.
In Singapore, teaching is also a highly respected and attractive profession with salaries like that of the nation’s accountants and engineers. There, aspiring teachers often receive salaries throughout their preparation courses. The country recruits teachers from the top third of high school graduates. By paying teachers appropriately and making education affordable, Singapore has been able to reduce class sizes and allow time for teachers to work on professional development.
Even with the best working conditions, recruitment processes must be revamped in education systems around the world. Many Canadian provinces are experiencing widespread teacher shortages, including British Columbia. The province found that difficulty attracting new teachers was part of the problem, especially in rural areas. The government allocated $1.6 million to help update teacher application management systems and coordinate national and international recruiting.
In the United States, the Center for American Progress examined school districts’ human capital systems and made the following recommendations to improve teacher recruitment:
- Devote more time to intentional recruitment.
- Include performance measures in application processes.
- Provide new teachers chances to build their skills.
- Implement professional learning systems.
- Prioritize diversity and develop strategies to attract teachers of color.
These are just a few of the solutions to teacher shortages. Teacher shortage statistics show that these tactics and many more will be vital in the years to come as shortages of qualified teachers continue to increase.
Be Part of the Teacher Shortage Solution
The worldwide shortage of teachers won’t be solved overnight. It will take numerous professionals with creative ideas to get enough qualified teachers back in classrooms. The industry needs professionals with a deep understanding of the issues affecting communities to tackle this challenge and be part of the budding solutions taking off at home around the world.
If you’re interested in developing policies and instituting organizational change that will address teacher shortages, consider earning your doctorate in education online from the University of West Alabama.
The Ed. D. Rural Education from UWA Online helps candidates gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and issues in rural education, including the teacher shortage crisis. This one-of-a-kind program offers an organizational change and leadership track designed for instructional leaders, program directors and other changemakers ready to drive innovation in rural education.