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Fewer Teachers. Bigger Gap Than You Think.

Fewer Teachers. Bigger Gap Than You Think.

Kids need teachers’ full support. Yet, researchers have estimated that, overall, K-12 schools in the US were about 110,000 teachers short in the 2017–2018 school year. That’s a big gap when you consider there are almost 50 million schoolchildren out there who need to be educated.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, “The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought. When indicators of teacher quality (certification, relevant training, experience, etc.) are taken into account, the shortage is even more acute.”

The Learning Policy Institute notes that, since the Great Recession, a decline in teacher headcount may have been related to teacher layoffs. But now, teacher jobs are going begging, in part, because of a lack of qualified candidates.

Indicators of this shortage are borne out by schools’ subject area vacancies, data and input from school district officials, and declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs.

Here’s why this matters. Lack of sufficient, qualified teachers and staff instability threaten students’ ability to learn and schools’ ability to manage staffing costs.

In addition, the fact that the shortage is distributed unevenly among students of different socioeconomic backgrounds challenges the U.S. education system’s goal of providing a sound education equitably to all children.

Here are some of the problems contributing to the teacher shortage and ultimately kids’ ability (or inability) to succeed in school:

  • Dramatic fall in the number of qualified applicants
  • Attrition of those currently in the profession
  • Low pay which detracts from the desirability of the teaching profession
  • Stress/discouragement due to student absenteeism, class-cutting, student apathy, lack of parental involvement, poor student health, and safety
  • Unsatisfactory or lack of time for professional development
  • Inability to manage the workload

Each one of these problems has a disproportionate effect on schools in high poverty areas where the teacher-to-pupil ratio for public schools is 30 percent higher than for private schools.

How can we all be more supportive of the teaching profession? Here’s what the Economic Policy Institute says needs to the tackled:

(1) the working conditions and other factors that are prompting teachers to quit and dissuading people from entering the profession, thus making it harder for school districts to retain and attract highly qualified teachers;

(2) low pay, a challenging school environment, and weak professional development support and recognition; and

(3) the lack of supports and funding for high-poverty schools, where teacher shortages are even more of a problem.