The National Teacher Shortage is Worse Than Previously Thought, Researchers Say

The shortage disproportionately affects low-income schools, which may have trouble attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers.

The shortage disproportionately affects low-income schools, which may have trouble attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers. shutterstock

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The deficit is particularly bad in high-poverty districts, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The national shortage of K-12 teachers is worse than most analysts estimated, particularly in high-poverty school districts, according to new research from the Economic Policy Institute.

“The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought,” wrote researchers Emma García and Elaine Weiss with the liberal-leaning think tank. “When indicators of teacher quality (certification, relevant training, experience, etc.) are taken into account, the shortage is even more acute than currently estimated, with high-poverty schools suffering the most.”

Their report, the first in a series of six on the teacher shortage, uses data from the federal Department of Education’s National Teacher and Principal Survey to determine the education and experience levels of teachers in a variety of schools. That matters, they argue, because most estimates of the teacher shortage ”consider the new qualified teachers needed to meet new demand. However, not all current teachers meet the education, experience, and certification requirements associated with being a highly qualified teacher.”

According to the data, as of the 2015-2016 school year, 8.8 percent of teachers do not have a standard state certificate or advanced professional certificate, meaning “they are not fully certified.” Nearly a quarter of teachers—22.4 percent—have five or fewer years of experience, and 9.4 percent have less than two years of experience. And almost a third of educators—31.5 percent—do not have an education background in the main subject they teach.

Those results vary depending on the income level of a particular school. “In high-poverty schools, the share of teachers who are not fully certified is close to three percentage points higher than it is in low-poverty schools,” the report says.

High-poverty schools also tend to have higher numbers of inexperienced teachers (4.8 percent more relative to low-poverty schools) and more teachers without an educational background in their main subject (6.3 percent).

That’s perhaps not surprising, as highly qualified teachers tend to have more job options available to them. “They are more likely to be recruited by higher-income school districts and to join the staffs of schools that provide them with better support and working conditions and more choices of grades and subjects to teach.”

And while better-qualified teachers are more likely to teach long-term, “the link between strong credentials and retention might be less powerful in high-poverty schools,” the report says.

The shortage is likely to continue, researchers conclude, until policymakers better understand the scope of the problem and the factors that contribute to it.

“As a first step to exploring the teacher shortage, it is important to acknowledge that the teacher shortage is the result of multiple and interdependent drivers, all working simultaneously to cause the imbalance between the number of new teachers needed (demand) and the number of individuals available to be hired (supply),” they wrote. “But both supply-side and demand-side drivers of the labor market for teachers are products of existing working conditions, existing policies, and other factors. If these change, this can in turn drive changes in the demand and supply of teachers and affect the size (or existence) of the teacher shortage.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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