A new look at the teacher shortage—is it worse than we thought?

Headlines continue to underscore the scope of teacher shortages across the nation, according to new research. Here's what district leaders can do about it.

Districts are now making preparations for the 2023-24 school year, and part of that work is ensuring every classroom has a teacher. And if we’ve learned anything about the pandemic and its impact on K12 education, it’s that this effort has only become more difficult due to the high level of teacher turnover. In fact, the issue may be worse than we thought.

A new analysis from the educational consultant organization Education Resource Strategies suggests that reports from districts and researchers regarding teacher vacancies are misleading, understating “the actual effects of teacher turnover on schools and students by overlooking the impact of teachers transferring to other schools within their district,” the report reads.

Based on field work with six large school districts, ERS’ original research reveals that more teachers are leaving their schools than ever before. Here’s a look at that data:

  • On average, nearly 30% of teachers left their school during the 2021-22 school year compared to 24% before the pandemic. This includes teachers who:
    • Left the district entirely by abandoning the profession or swapping school systems.
    • Left their role but stayed in the district.
    • Took a teaching job in another district (this accounted for nearly one-third of school-level turnover).
  • Schools with higher levels of students experiencing poverty lost 34% of their teachers in 2021-22.
  • 36% of new teachers left their school compared to 30% before the pandemic.

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To address this issue, the analysis adds, districts must tackle the root cause of it all by redesigning a job that is no longer attractive or sustainable enough to give students the education they deserve. In addition to these findings, the researchers offer four recommendations for district leaders who may be experiencing some of these issues:

  • Make teaching more sustainable in high-needs schools: Provide more time for collaboration and reflection and allow teachers to share work while investing in strong leaders to support them.
  • Invest in “shelter-and-develop” models for new teachers: This should be the case, especially in high-needs schools. This model helps take the load off of rookie teachers and gives them opportunities to learn with expert support.
  • Be adamant about improving teacher pay: Teachers in the early stages of their careers should be provided liveable wages while achieving “meaningful” salary increases. “these increases can also support leadership roles geared toward improving instruction that enables strong teachers to expand their reach and earn more, without leaving the classroom,” the report reads.
  • Understand district policies and their “unintended” impact: This includes seniority-based transfer policies that bar principals’ abilities to “make the best decisions for their schools and ‘last in, first out’ policies that lay off teachers based on experience rather than effectiveness,” according to the report. Such policies play a substantial role in teacher turnover in high-needs schools because that’s where you’ll find the highest number of inexperienced teachers.

“Teacher turnover is a pervasive issue that’s only increasing as our nation’s schools come out of the pandemic,” the analysis reads. “But with a strategic focus on supporting teachers—particularly rookie teachers and those in high-need schools—district leaders can work toward stopping the turnover cycle and making the teaching job more sustainable for all educators.”

Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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