Researchers find job growth — not exits — paints the teacher outlook

“Among researchers, I think we’ve reached a consensus that teachers haven’t migrated during the pandemic,” said Heather Schwartz, a researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization that regularly surveys school districts around the country. their workers. “I don’t see many district leaders saying we have a serious, serious teacher shortage. I don’t see a crisis.

“Are we going to have such a shortage that we can’t even keep the school doors open?” Schwartz said. “No, that’s not where policymakers should spend their energy.”

Instead, as counterintuitive as it may seem, Schwartz found that 77 percent of schools will begin hiring sprees in 2021-22 as $190 billion in federal pandemic funding begins to flow in, according to a RAND study released on July 19, 2022. “Yes there is a shortage in the sense that their open positions are not being filled. But the word ‘scarcity’ is kind of a misnomer because more people are employed in schools than pre-pandemic.

Imagine that Google decided to expand its ranks of computer programmers. Finding that many software engineers can be difficult, and it will feel like a shortage of IT hiring managers everywhere. That’s what happens in schools.

To understand why the teacher shortage has become such a dominant story line, it is helpful to begin the story before the pandemic when teacher shortage complaints were common. But Goldhaber said there was never a shortage of teachers everywhere or among all types. Deficits were concentrated in low-income schools and in certain specialties. Wealthy suburban schools may have dozens of applicants for an elementary school teacher, while schools in poor urban neighborhoods and remote rural areas may struggle to find teachers certified in special education or teaching English language learners.

The reasons for the various shortages were varied. Many teachers go into special education but soon leave the classroom. Teaching students with disabilities is a difficult task. Less ambitious teachers prefer to specialize in math or science instruction. Little interest in the beginning. Low-income schools have problems at both ends. Fewer people want to teach in low-income schools, and once there, dropouts are high.

Graph showing the percentage of vacancies by specialty over the years
Source: Dan Goldhaber National Center for Education Statistics with data from the School and Staffing Survey and the National Teacher and Principal Survey

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, schools had normal teacher turnover rates. But recruitment has stopped with everything. Principals find it virtually impossible to replace teachers who leave.

“Imagine this huge slowdown in hiring,” says RAND’s Schwartz. “And then you get to the next school year, and you have a staff shortage — not because a lot of people quit, but because you didn’t refresh your roster.”

Many teachers fell ill from Covid or took leave to care for sick family members during the 2020-21 school year.

“So we had this temporary shortage of people who were on campus or in the field on a given day,” Schwartz said. “Districts don’t have enough substitute teachers to fill that shortage every day.”

Two problems have created complex and extreme shortages. Students sit in classrooms without teachers. Schools closed as diversity grew through their communities.

The script flipped abruptly in the 2021-22 school year as the federal government sent pandemic recovery funds to schools. Not only have schools started rehiring to fill vacancies, they’ve increased staffing to help kids catch up on missed instruction. Many principals have hired additional agencies to hold reserves in anticipation of new coronavirus variants.

The largest areas of staff expansion were among substitute teachers, paraprofessionals or teachers’ aides, and teachers. Ninety percent of schools surveyed by RAND have already increased their ranks of substitute teachers or are still trying to hire more To entice the alternative, the schools raised the average daily wage from $115 to $122, adjusted for inflation, which Schwartz said is a big increase compared to the retail industry.

Schwartz doesn’t yet have data on the exact number of new hires, but he’s confident the school’s head count is up. More than 40 percent of school districts surveyed also said they already have or intend to increase the number of general classroom teachers in elementary, middle and high schools compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Source: Districts continue to struggle with staffing, political polarization and unfinished instruction, selected findings from the Fifth American School District Panel Survey, RAND.

“This expansion of hiring is confusing if you want, wait, there’s a huge teacher shortage,” Schwartz said. “It’s an ironic problem. Many schools have had to scramble to stay open and staffed during the acute crisis. Now we have this weird other problem of overstaffing.”

It’s understandable that many of my media colleagues are writing about the deficit. States are reporting shortfalls to the federal government, and education advocates like Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association, are sounding the alarm. Part of the confusion is how the deficit is calculated. Goldhaber explained to me that there is no standard way to define or document a shortage, and if even one district out of hundreds of districts reports difficulty recruiting a certain type of teacher, some states will document that category as a statewide shortage. Louisiana, for example, reports that it is experiencing shortages in 80 percent of its teaching force.

In contrast, RAND’s analysis is more refined. “We asked the schools what deficits they expected for the 22-23 school year and they didn’t expect a huge deficit,” said Schwartz. Three-quarters of districts said they expect a shortfall, but most of them, 58 percent, said it would be a small shortfall. A major teacher shortage is expected in only 17 percent of districts.

Schwartz said his biggest concern is not the current teacher shortage, but the teacher surplus after 2024 when pandemic funding runs out. School budgets will be further squeezed by declining U.S. birth rates as funding is tied to student enrollment. Schools may lay off many educators in the coming years “It’s not easy for schools to cut staff and maintain the quality of education for students,” Schwartz said

It will not be good for students.