Students across the country are returning to school. Will there be enough teachers waiting for them?
ABC World News Tonight claims that there was a “teacher shortage crisis”. The Washington Post describe a “catastrophic shortage of teachers”. Some local school officials say hiring this summer has been particularly difficult.
But some researchers have been skepticalclaiming that the data does not support these claims and that the shortages are limited to certain schools and subjects.
So what do we know? Are teachers really leaving en masse? Will there be more classes starting the year led by substitutes? Did the pandemic exacerbate these problems?
Definitive data is limited and school has yet to start in much of the country. To date, there is little solid evidence to support claims of an unprecedented crisis. When American students return to school, the vast majority will be greeted by a teacher.
But the ingredients – high levels of teacher stress, more teaching vacancies, a long-term decline in the number of people training to become teachers, and competition for jobs outside of schools – are there for recruitment of teachers is more difficult than normal. Very poor schools in particular will face familiar challenges in staffing their classrooms with qualified teachers.
“Is there a national teacher shortage? I think the reality is more nuanced,” said David Rosenberg, who works with district officials across the country through the nonprofit Education Resource Strategies. “And in some places, heck yeah.”
Here’s what we know — and don’t know — about claims of a national teacher shortage.
Some school officials raise red flags
In June 2022, the average US public school reported having 3.4 open teaching positions, according to a recent survey published by the United States Department of Education. (The study did not break down the number of teachers the middle school employs, though a rough estimate, based on pre-pandemic data, is 35.)
There is no exact comparable figure from before the pandemic. In fall 2017, Chalkbeat found this vacancy rates among major districts on the first day of school ranged from 0 to 6 percent.
Districts typically spend the end of the previous school year and the summer working to fill their vacancies. School has yet to start in much of the country, so officials still have time to fill the remaining openings.
Yet the same survey found that 62% of school leaders said the pandemic had made it harder to fill those vacancies.
“We are now at a crisis point,” said Aimee Green-Webb, chief human resources officer for Jefferson County Schools, Ky., according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Rosenberg heard similar sentiments. “The experience in many, many places is that there are fewer qualified adults to lead classroom instruction,” he said. Principals also reported a shortage of bus drivers, substitutes and other support staff.