Using Data to Address Teacher Shortages
Which measures can help states and districts attract and retain great teachers?


We have a teacher workforce problem in the South. We do not have enough teachers who want to keep teaching — or enough people who are choosing to become teachers in the first place. Furthermore, within our current teacher workforce, many teachers are not fully prepared for their roles. And these challenges are even more striking when examined by subject area and school poverty level. 

Not only do these trends harm student learning and make teachers’ jobs harder, they also cause economic disadvantages. But effectively addressing and preventing teacher shortages requires going beyond a “warm body” approach  — this means that focusing solely on filling vacancies is a surface-level, bandaid approach. To ensure efforts to address teacher shortages are effective and long-lasting, states and districts need to look at various measurements and take a holistic approach to making teaching an attractive, rewarding, and sustainable career choice.

Focusing on vacancies doesn’t tell the full story about teacher shortages. To effectively address and prevent teacher shortages, SREB recommends examining 4 key areas:



In the SREB region in 2021, turnover equated to a loss of more than 152,000 teachers from their positions, yet we only prepared shy of 58,000 new teachers in both traditional and alternative preparation programs. Between 2012-13 and 2020-21, the number of people completing teacher preparation programs in the South declined significantly, even when factoring in the rise of alternative certification programs. The 2020-21 school year marked the first time since 2012 in which there was a year-to-year increase. However, the number of people choosing to: (A) enroll in teacher preparation programs — and then (B) complete those programs, and © enter the profession remains a cause for concern.

Even as we look ahead to Gen Z continuing to enter the workforce, just 4% of current high school students in the South say they would be interested in entering teaching — an all time low compared to previous generations.

The challenges presented by both of these trends are magnified when combined with other related trends across the region, such as increased teacher vacancies, increased teacher turnover and an aging teacher workforce.



✔ Projected need, including:

  • The student population — such as enrollment numbers and student demographics and distribution.
  • Teacher turnover and retirement

✔ Potential interest in becoming a teacher — as well as general attitudes and perceptions around teaching as a career path — among middle school, high school, and college students.

✔ Teacher preparation program information for both traditional and alternative programs, such as:

  • Enrollment data
  • Completion data
  • Data on program completers who enter the profession (and those who don’t)



Stay tuned for new research SREB will release in 2024 in partnership with Vanderbilt University about teaching interest, attraction, and retention among Gen Z. 




Experience level is valuable to examine because: (A) like most professions, teachers gain wisdom and skill at their craft as they get experience under their belts, and (B) teacher turnover tends to be highest among early-career teachers — research suggests a turnover rate of approximately 44% during the first five years after a teacher enters the profession. SREB’s review of state-level data reports showed an increase in the percent of the teacher workforce who had less than three years of experience  — 17.6% in 2020-21, up from 16.4% the year prior.

Our review of state-level data reports also showed an increase in the percentage of uncertified or emergency certified teachers in the South during this timeframe — 5.1% in 2020-21, up from 4.5% in 2019-20. (The percent of teachers who were teaching out-of-field remained steady at 11%.) In an effort to address teacher shortages caused by turnover, vacancies, and other factors, state and districts sometimes reduce or waive requirements for certification. But some of these strategies are unsustainable — they can harm student learning, devalue the profession and fail to address the long-standing and systemic issues that have led to teacher shortages in the first place. Sweeping efforts to lower the standard of entry into teaching run the risk of simply increasing the number of unprepared and ineffective teachers, and they are also likely to disproportionately impact schools that serve low-income students and students of color. 

When it comes to the racial and ethnic makeup of our teacher workforce, research shows that having a teacher of color can benefit students of color in several key ways, including:

  • Reducing the number of absences
  • Improving overall academic performance, math and reading test scores, graduation rates, and aspirations to attend college

And these positive effects aren’t just limited to students of color. Research has also shown that white students who had a teacher of color saw gains in math and reading when compared to other white students who were assigned to white teachers — and that these positive effects even persisted into high school. 

Although the teacher workforce in the South shows signs of becoming more diverse — 24% of teachers in the region were people of color in 2020-21, up from 22% the year prior — it still doesn’t reflect the demographics of the student population. 



✔ Teacher experience level, including the percent who are inexperienced and the rate of teacher turnover at various levels of experience.

✔ Current data and trends over time — including type and location of teaching assignments, teacher quality indicators, and retention data for the following groups:

  • Uncertified teachers
  • Teachers with emergency certifications or certifications from relaxed requirements
  • Teachers who are teaching out-of-field
  • Teachers who are ineffective and inadequately effective

✔ Data about race and ethnicity for both students and teachers — not only on a state-level, but on levels such as by district, zip code, cluster or school.

✔ Data about the pass-rates of teacher licensing exams (and other certification requirements), including by race and ethnicity.



✔ Collect multiple measurement points on teacher quality to know more.

✔ Explore our Blueprint to Solve Teacher Shortages for more on how to support teachers at each stage of their careers, so that they grow their skills, choose to stay in the profession and have opportunities for routes into teacher-leadership roles. 




Teacher shortages aren’t just an issue of quantity — in many cases they are an issue of distribution. In other words, it’s not just about having enough teachers, it’s about having enough teachers in the right places, and ensuring those teachers are strong teachers. Not having enough teachers in the subject areas and locations where they are needed most inherently means that some students are being more impacted by teacher shortages than others. For example, consider:

Teacher Shortages by Subject Area: Nationwide, there has been a growing misalignment between teacher supply and demand. For example:

  • In 2022, 48 states reported a shortage of special education teachers and schools reported special education vacancies at almost double the rate of other teaching areas. In 2020-21, 40% of schools that were hiring for open special education positions reported having difficulty filling the position — compared to 17% 10 years ago.
  • Similarly, 32% of schools reported having difficulty filling vacancies for math teachers (up from 19% in 2011-12), as well as 31% for biology or life sciences vacancies (up from 19% in 2011-12) and 47% for physical sciences, such as physics and engineering (up from 26%in 2011-12). The long-term effects of these shortages are problematic given future economic well-being and workforce needs.

Teacher Shortages by Poverty-Level & Location: It’s well documented that districts and schools with higher concentrations of students from low-income backgrounds experience greater rates of teacher turnover and staffing instability — teachers are nearly 2x more likely to exit high-poverty schools compared to more affluent ones.

The type of community — how urban, rural, or suburban it is — is also correlated with teacher shortages. For example, in high-poverty, rural schools, close to one in three teachers leave. Research shows that approximately half of all teacher turnover happens in just 25% of schools, primarily urban and rural schools serving low-income and/or students of color. And it is these same schools that also experience the highest rates of principal turnover as well. 

These realities also highlight why students deserve better than a “warm body” approach — like all students, students in schools most impacted by teacher shortages need strong, well-supported teachers. Simply filling numeric gaps isn’t enough.

Despite this, many of the same districts and schools most impacted by shortages also have the highest rates of inexperienced and under-qualified teachers. Among high-poverty, Title I schools in the SREB region in 2020-21, 19.7% of teachers were inexperienced, 13.5% were teaching out-of-field, and 9.1% were uncertified. And nationally, district leaders say that 16% of the new teachers hired in 2020-21 were not fully prepared, a nearly 80% increase from 2014-15. 

To make matters worse, although teachers in high-poverty schools likely need more support (especially those who are uncertified or new to teaching), they are less likely to get it. Research from the Economic Policy Institute found that in high-poverty schools, teachers were less likely to have professional development opportunities they found useful (such as observational visits to other schools or teacher-led research), and first-year teachers were less likely to work with a mentor — supports that boost retention and help to alleviate shortages in the first place. 



Teacher shortages are not a monolithic, non-specific crisis. Rather than addressing them only via broad strokes, states and districts need to use data to inform approaches that are targeted to meet specific areas, needs, and contexts. For example:

✔ Shortage data by subject area, including data that is cut by grade level, by by location and by poverty level.

✔ Proxies for teacher quality (such as experience level and certification type) by subject area, location and poverty level.

✔ Information on teacher turnover and movement by subject area, location and poverty level.

✔ Data around working conditions, burnout, and professional support and development for specific groups of teachers, such as those who work in high-poverty schools, rural teachers, early-career teachers and special education teachers.



✔ In addition to the data noted above, examine data trends and effectiveness of school leaders and administrators.

✔ Explore options for incentivizing current teachers and/or pre-service teachers to fill vacancies in subject areas and geographic areas of need.

✔ Go to our Blueprint to Solve Teacher Shortages for more information on the relationship between teacher shortages and future economic and workforce needs, as well as guidance on how to customize a blueprint that addresses your state’s specific shortage challenges.




Teacher turnover plays a key role in creating the breadth and depth of shortages. Turnover significantly disrupts student learning and affects school-level continuity and climate, as institutional knowledge about students and programs is lost. It’s also time-consuming and costly — on average it cost districts $21,000 to replace one teacher (prior to current inflation).

To improve teacher retention, states and districts must employ solutions that address competitive compensation and working conditions — in fact, these are two of the most meaningful levers overall for addressing teacher shortages, stabilizing the workforce and ensuring a strong economy in the long-term.

Teacher morale has steadily eroded, with recent years seeing record lows in teacher satisfaction and record highs in the percent of teachers looking to leave the profession to pursue a different occupation. 

Compensation affects retention and dissuades people from entering the teaching profession. In 2022, on average, teachers made 26.4% less than their similarly-educated peers in other professions, despite being more impacted by recent inflation. Total benefits packages (such as heath and retirement) have not been enough to offset these wage gaps. Simply put, many teachers are concerned about their financial security and do not find the pay to be commensurate with the stress of the job. 

This is backed up further in recent research by RAND, which found that even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, stress topped the list of reasons for why teachers quit. (Teachers report experiencing stress at about 2x the rate of other working adults.) 

Teachers also noted a lack of autonomy around school policies, the resources and supplies they need to teach and student behavior. Next to pay raises or bonuses, the top levers teachers said would most improve their mental well-being and morale were smaller class sizes and more support for student discipline. 

The next generation has picked up on these unfavorable working conditions. Among current high school students in the South, just 4% say they would be interested in going into teaching. The top reasons they shared for why teaching is unattractive to them include: low pay, lack of career advancement, lack of flexibility and collaboration and a lack of voice and respect.

Furthermore, the record-low interest in teaching among high school and college students, as well as record low job satisfaction among current teachers are not simply a byproduct of pandemic-related factors — they are declines that have occurred steadily over time, indicating they are part of a larger structural issue within the profession



✔ Data on overall teacher satisfaction and interest in leaving the profession — cut by experience level, subject area, school poverty level and other factors.

✔ Compensation benchmarking data, including local “wage penalties” for teachers compared to similarly-educated professionals, the impact of inflation, and take-home pay compared to local cost of living.

✔ Quantitative and qualitative feedback from teachers on working conditions, such as stress, hours, leadership, class size, student behavior, autonomy, professional support and more.

✔ Information about what teachers identify as the top levers that would most improve their well-being, morale and likelihood of staying.

✔ Data on the frequency and nature of teachers needing to cover other classes. (Due to current shortages and increased absenteeism, 64% of teachers reported being asked to cover another class at least once per week in 2022. This increases stress and impacts student learning.)



✔ Explore our teacher compensation dashboard for a closer look at each state’s teacher compensation packages, including salaries, retirement benefits, health benefit options, and take-home pay. You can also find trends and highlights from an analysis of the dashboard here. A new district-based compensation dashboard is forthcoming in 2024!