A Long-Term Solution to Teacher Shortages
Finding the Root of the Problem

Blog post Megan Boren

We’ve all heard the saying “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” When it comes to state policies affecting the teacher workforce, it’s important to see both.  

Teachers make life-long impressions on thousands of students — over 3,000 in an average career — and help raise every generation to understand the world and become productive, well-rounded citizens. Quality education can lead to greater wealth, tolerance and political participation; to better health and self-esteem; to reduced crime rates and a more stable society. And teachers make or break that education. When it comes to student performance, teachers are estimated to have two to three times the effect of any other school factor including services, facilities, even leadership.

But the forest is important, too. In the 16-state SREB region, all states have shortages in at least three subject areas; some face shortages in all  areas. And 14 of the 16 states are seeing declines in the number of new teacher candidates graduating from preparation programs. 

Retention of the current workforce is a major issue for many states. National teacher surveys point to several reasons: inadequate preparation for the job, lack of support (mentoring, professional development, collaboration) and low compensation. Teachers’ responsibilities have increased significantly in the last two decades: they must now educate a more diverse student body bringing many different needs to the classroom — including mental and emotional health — and they must do it under expectations that they increase student growth at much higher rates.

School leaders and policymakers face two important demands at the same time. We need better teachers, and we need a lot more, now.

Short-Term Solutions Are Creating Long-Term Problems

Many leaders are finding short-term solutions: emergency certifications to allow teachers to enter the classroom before they’ve completed their training; incentives for retired teachers to return; larger class sizes; easing requirements for non-traditional preparation; incremental pay increases. 

Is it working? Partly, In quantity terms — some schools have been able to fill their teacher vacancies — but is the quality of instruction improving? The latest data says no. As of 2018, one in seven teachers in the South are unprepared or inexperienced. Trend data shows this will get worse before it gets better.

Teacher Experience, Certification, Retention

In the South, 24% of the teacher workforce is inexperienced, unprepared or planning to leave within the next five years. The table shows these percentages for states in the SREB region.

 

 

Inexperienced 

Uncertified 

Plan to leave the profession

AL

12.00%

1.40%

4.60%

AR

13.80%

4.00%

6.00%

DE

12.30%

2.10%

5.80%

FL

14.10%

4.70%

10.40%

GA

9.50%

3.10%

8.00%

KY

10.00%

0.80%

3.60%

LA

12.90%

8.10%

6.00%

MD

15.70%

3.40%

10.10%

MS

13.20%

3.20%

7.10%

NC

8.40%

2.70%

10.00%

OK

12.20%

0.90%

6.70%

SC

11.40%

1.50%

8.60%

TN

19.20%

4.10%

8.70%

TX

15.40%

2.90%

9.60%

VA

12.40%

3.20%

11.00%

WV

11.20%

3.40%

9.40%

Inexperienced:  Teachers with one or two years of experience.

Uncertified: Teachers practicing under an emergency or provisional certificate.

Plan to leave the profession: Teachers planning to leave teaching as soon as possible or as soon as a more desirable job opportunity arises.

Sources: Learning Policy Institute (2018). Understanding Teacher Shortages: 2018 Update. Primary data from the National Center for Education Statistics Civil Rights Data Collection, Public-Use Data File 2015-16. Planning to leave the profession primary data from the National Center for Education Statistics Public School Teacher File 2016, National Teacher and Principal Survey.

Think of it this way: Would you want your child taught by a brand-new teacher who hasn’t completed basic training for the job? Children taught by a highly effective teacher for three years in a row average 50 percentile points of growth, while teachers who aren’t at least minimally effective can actually cause student achievement to decline.

See the Bigger Picture for More (and More Effective) Teachers

State leaders will need to find long-term solutions if they are to increase both the quantity and quality of our teachers. But the causes of this crisis are not simple. A complex web of policies and effects is at play, none of which can be addressed in isolation: inadequate pay, school budget cuts, declining respect for the profession. As one example, some states focused on increasing pay and restoring education budgets aren’t seeing any increase in quantity or quality. Why? Because these strategies are not coupled with investments in key elements of any profession — high quality training, career advancement and professional growth.  

To really see the forest we have to think about how trees are planted, how they grow — to focus on the needs of individual teachers, some of the most important people in our society

This will take educators and leaders coming together to review state policies across the teacher career continuum, with the goal of making the profession more attractive and respected. Such policies would address teacher preparation, recruitment, certification, induction, compensation, growth, retention and advancement. From seed to sequoia.

Four states are now undertaking these reviews, creating plans to adjust and redesign  policies with a holistic approach. SREB is facilitating these conversations, sharing a growing inventory of research and recommendations on teacher workforce policy.

These states are keeping an eye on the big picture, leading the way with long-term strategies to solve not only today’s teacher shortage but the need for even better teachers in all of tomorrow’s classrooms.