Teacher Shortages Worsening in Majority of U.S. States

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This story was originally published in The Guardian as part of a project on teacher pay, teacher activism and classroom funding in the United States. Click on this logo to see the complete three-day project.

Teacher shortages are worsening across the US for the majority of states, according to an exclusive survey by the Guardian.

The Guardian contacted all US states’ departments and boards of education, and other official bodies. Forty-one states responded; nine others declined to provide relevant data or did not respond to requests for information.

The study found:

  • Of the 41 states that did respond to the survey, 28 say they are experiencing teacher shortages.
  • Of those 28, 15 say teacher shortages have increased in the last year.
  • Of the nine states that didn’t respond to the survey, public data suggests another eight are experiencing teacher shortages.

Schools are struggling to fill positions in science, special education and mathematics, and often have trouble keeping teachers because of low salaries, high student loans, and reduced budgets.

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Some states are turning to emergency or short-term licensure to put more teachers in the classroom.

Short-term licensure, which is labelled and categorized in different ways across all 50 states, represents a quick fix to the teaching crisis. Empty positions are filled by teachers who may have a bachelor’s degree, or certification in another topic, but still have further education requirements to complete. Temporary or emergency licensure allows them an allotted amount of time to complete additional requirements while working legally.

The education nonprofit Learning Policy Institute (LPI) says this policy puts less effective teachers in the classroom.

The Guardian study found some states do not track unfilled positions on a statewide level at all. Alaska, Colorado and Maryland have just begun to keep recordsof unfilled positions – something they have never done before. All are states that have teacher shortage issues.

Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Illinois, South Carolina, Florida, and Virginia all track unfilled positions statewide. These eight states are using this data to bring attention to their vacancies and push emergency short-term licensure as a temporary solution.

The other 30 states do not track unfilled positions statewide, and in some circumstances, said only district level numbers were available.

Where is this happening?

Shortages have increased in parts of every region of the US in the past year.

In California, which has the largest number of public school students in the US, 80% of districts reported a shortage of qualified teachers in 2017-2018, and nine out of 10 of those districts said the situation was worse than the previous school year. California has about 305,000 total teachers in K-12 public schools.

The California department of education told the Guardian the greatest growth has been in emergency-style permits known as provisional intern permits (PIP) and short-term staff permits (STSP). In 2015–16, California had over 4,000 teachers on PIPs and STSPs, nearly five times as many as in 2012–13. About 1,700 PIPs and STSPs were issued in special education and over 450 in mathematics and science.

Vacancies are a prevalent problem in rural states. An Oklahoma department of education spokesperson said: “We have already seen a record-breaking number of emergency certifications presented to the state board of approval – 2,153 this year.” The state has more than 44,000 certified teachers, but additionally allows over 4,000 more to work on emergency certification.

The school year in Oklahoma is beginning with nearly 500 teaching vacancies – despite the heavy reliance on underqualified emergency instructors.

The Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) surveyed districts statewide in 2018, and 276 districts (78% of the total public schools) responded. More than half of those superintendents said teacher hiring is worse this year compared to last year.

Oklahoma was the site of one of this spring’s largest teachers’ strikes. But the pay rises won by teachers are now under threat because conservative groups have targeted the tax hikes earmarked to pay for them.

“Uncertainty over the teacher pay raise hampered the ability of districts to leverage the increase as a recruiting and retention tool,” OSSBA executive director Shawn Hime said.

Two-thirds of districts that responded to the survey said they expect emergency certified teachers will be needed to fill remaining vacancies.

In South Dakota, multiple solutions are being sought. The state passed legislation in 2016 to institute a half-penny sales tax, the proceeds of which were to go to teacher salaries. Since that time, there has been an almost 12% increase in the statewide average teacher salary.

Department of education spokeswoman Mary Stadick Smith said: “While this has certainly helped with attracting and retaining teachers, the state does, on the whole, continue to struggle with finding qualified teachers.”

South Dakota calls their short-term licensure a “plan of intent,” which allows teachers who are not currently qualified to teach in a particular area to become qualified to teach in that area. Plans of intent are typically two years in duration. South Dakota has seen an increase in the number of plans of intent from 576 plans in 2015, to 676 in 2017.

Officials in Rhode Island are considering letting certified educators from Massachusetts and Connecticut teach in schools to address the many English as a second language (ESL) vacancies, among other subjects. The plan will be subject to a public hearing this fall before a vote can be taken.

Rhode Island is also struggling to find teachers for secondary math and science, and special education. Districts are currently relying on emergency certifications for those positions, which teachers must be renewed every year.

The LPI released a report in 2017 that said 100,000 classrooms are being staffed by “underqualified teachers”.

The group says some of the driving forces behind the shortages are “steeply declining enrollments in teacher education, which decreased 35% between 2009 and 2014.”

At the same time, demand for teachers began to grow sharply when the economic recovery took hold in 2015 as districts replaced positions and courses that had been cut during the recession. They said about 90% of the nationwide demand for teachers has been created by teachers leaving the profession, with two-thirds of those having left for reasons other than retirement.

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U.S. Spends More on Education Than Other Countries. Why Is it Falling Behind?