Schools again start year with teacher shortages
But a new Learning Policy Institute report identifies policies that have been effective at attracting and retaining well-prepared teachers.
Loan forgiveness and service scholarships, teacher residency programs and strong induction programs are a few of the ways states are trying to solve their teacher shortage problems, according to a report released today by the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Learning Policy Institute (LPI).
“Taking the Long View: State Efforts to Solve Teacher Shortages by Strengthening the Profession” also highlights the role of strong principal leadership in recruiting and retaining teachers, noting that a growing number of states are taking advantage of the provision within the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to set aside 3% of Title II, Part A funds for principal preparation.
The report follows LPI’s release of an updated, interactive map showing the extent and nature of shortages across the country. As with last year, schools are starting this fall with 100,000 classrooms in which teachers are either not adequately certified or lack experience, Linda Darling-Hammond, executive director of LPI, said in a media call last week.
The map assigns each state a “teacher attractiveness rating,” on a scale of 1 to 5, which takes into account issues such as compensation, turnover and working conditions. A separate “teacher equity rating” reflects the degree to which students, especially students of color, have teachers who are not fully certified or are inexperienced.
In some states, such as Colorado — one of six states with teacher protests last school year — teachers are making roughly 65% of what other college-educated professionals earn, Desiree Carver-Thomas, a research and policy associate at LPI, said in a media call last week. She added that nine out of the 10 teaching positions that principals have to fill are because they are trying to replace someone who has left — not because someone retired.
In Oklahoma, where a strike led to raises for teachers, there are still shortages, and the state Board of Education has approved a record number of emergency teaching certificates, according to Reuters.
Analyses of state budgets have shown that since the recession, spending on education, including teachers’ salaries, has not recovered. Darling-Hammond adds that the profession has become less attractive because many districts laid off teachers during that time.
“Teaching has long struggled to be viewed as a profession,” she said, calling the shortage issue “a complex field of labor economics and social views.” Unlike other fields with public sector employees, such as healthcare or engineering, she said officials tend to “lower standards rather than raise compensation.”
Some experts have argued that the focus on shortages overlooks growth in the teaching population, which Hannah Putman, the director of research at the National Council on Teacher Quality, writes about in this post. She adds that while shortages are not necessarily new, there is a "chronic misalignment" between the supply of teachers and the educators that schools really need.
The 'conditions in the community' matter
Arkansas state Sen. Joyce Elliott said on the LPI call that emergency certificates or “backdoor” solutions used to fill positions tend to be concentrated in high-need areas. In fact, according to LPI data, teacher turnover in general is 50% higher in Title I schools, and it's almost 70% greater among math and science teachers in Title I schools than in non-Title I schools. Recent research also shows that teachers prepared through alternative routes are not only more likely to leave teaching, but also to leave during the school year.
In Arkansas, which has a teacher attractiveness rating of 3.05 and a teacher equity rating of 2.8, shortages have reached subject areas previously not affected, such as language arts and social studies. “That is something that is brand new,” she said on the call. “That is something we’ve never contemplated before.”
She noted a few key policies her state is implementing to address shortages, such as paying incentives for teachers to earn their National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification. The state increased the bonus from $2,000 to $5,000, but is now targeting it more specifically to those working in hard-to-fill subject areas or hard-to-staff schools. She added that work is needed to create diversity among teachers seeking NBPTS certification.
The state also has a teacher cadet program for high school students. Schools partner with colleges to offer college-level coursework related to teaching. “If they learn to teach where they live, we hope they stay there,” she said.
Finally, in specific “priority schools,” teachers can earn a $10,000 bonus over a three-year period. But she added that a bonus is not necessarily enough to keep excellent teachers in high-needs schools.
“We really have to think about other conditions in the community,” such as the quality of living, she said. “We tend to look to education to solve all those problems.”
The LPI report highlights the state of Washington for implementing a “multipronged approach” to addressing shortages. Strategies include a grant program of up to $10,000 to lure teachers to specific subject areas or geographic regions, a student teaching grant designed to encourage preservice teachers to consider teaching in Title I schools, and a loan scholarship program for paraprofessionals. A 2017 state law, in response to a school funding lawsuit, is also driving up teacher compensation in the state.
Whether these strategies will be effective will take time to determine.
“A comprehensive evaluation of the state’s efforts to solve the teacher shortage by strengthening the teaching profession should help guide this ambitious effort over the years to come,” the report says.
Follow Linda Jacobson on Twitter