Education Funding and Budget

Teacher shortage is ‘real and growing, and worse than we thought’

By Tim Walker, this article originally appeared on

While the teacher shortage is being felt across many states and school districts, its impact is not shared equally along socioeconomic lines, according to a new paper by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Probably the most critical resource denied to many students is an experienced, full-certified teacher – a deficit that is “much more acute problem in high-poverty schools,” said EPI Economist Emma García. “These shortages threaten students’ ability to learn and reduce teachers’ effectiveness, and high teacher turnover consumes economic resources that could be better deployed elsewhere.”

The study, co-authored by García and EPI research associate Elaine Weiss, is the first in a series examining the “perfect storm” in the teacher labor market – the causes, the consequences and potential remedies. “The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought,” they write.

As the U.S. economy slowly recovered from the Great Recession and school budgets began to improve, districts began to look for teachers. They soon found that filling positions was more difficult than they had anticipated. Too many districts have struggled ever since. Finding qualified teachers in mathematics, science and special education has been a particular challenge.

The Learning Policy Institute (LPI), who has sounded the alarm about the teacher shortage in a number of reports, defines a shortage as “the inability to staff school at current wages with individuals qualified to teach in the fields required.”

As García and Weiss note, not all current teachers meet the education, experience, and certification requirements associated with being a highly qualified teacher.

“We argue that, when issues such as teacher quality and the unequal distribution of highly qualified teachers across schools serving different concentrations of low-income students are taken into consideration, the teacher shortage problem is much more severe than previously thought,” the EPI report said.

The shortages are especially severe in California. In 2017, LPI found that two-thirds of principals in high-poverty schools left positions vacant or hired less-qualified teachers. Less than half of their counterparts in schools with fewer lower-income students did so.

In Illinois, of the 1,006 unfilled teacher positions in the state, 74 percent are in majority-minority school districts while 81 percent are in districts where the majority of students are low-income. Ninety percent of vacancies are in underfunded school districts.

Click to enlarge

Students in high-poverty schools are more likely than their counterparts in low-poverty schools to have teachers who have less experience, fewer credentials, and lack the educational background in the subject matter they are teaching. (See chart at left.) These teachers are also more likely to leave the profession.

The EPI paper also finds that the established link between strong credentials and retention weakens in high-poverty schools, as attrition drains these schools of qualified teachers at a greater rate. Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania estimates that half of all teacher turnover occurs in 25 percent of public schools, predominantly in high-poverty urban and rural areas.

“There is no sign that the large shortage of credentialed teachers—overall, and especially in high-poverty schools—will go away,” García and Weiss write. Progress can be achieved only when the problem and its complexities are evaluated properly. This begins by understanding that the shortage is driven by several critical factors, including the teacher pay gap, stress and demoralization, and a scarcity of effective professional development, training and mentoring.

EPI will be take an in-depth look at these challenges – and potential solutions – in upcoming papers.

“In light of the harms the teacher shortage creates, as well as its size and projected trend, it is critical to understand the nature of the problem and the complexity of the teacher labor market,” said Weiss. “While most people understand teaching is a difficult job, our goal is to provide the attention that we have historically failed to in order to understand and fix the problems contributing to the shortage.”

43 responses to “Teacher shortage is ‘real and growing, and worse than we thought’

  1. States need to remove the testing requirements for teaching certifications. Lower the barriers to entry and stricter displine on the students is important. Of course more pay doesn’t hurt either. Americans value entertainment and quick rich schemes more than education.

    1. I am a highly-qualified teacher who thought I wanted to teach in North Carolina until I hit a brick wall going through the application process.
      It is a nightmare. After applying and waiting 6 months to hear anything, I was denied. I was denied because they had not updated my application as to where I could load up my transcripts, experience verification, etc. I had previously called for assistance to see what was missing from my application after receiving a rude “delinquent” notice and was told to to go back to the application website and look for it. I NEVER had access until today March 5, 2020. I have no interest in teaching in North Carolina.

  2. I’m tired of the media- including “teacher’s organizations” making it look like the teacher shortage is the teacher’s faults. Let’s place the blame squarely where it lies- the plethora of tests, weak local administrations, state and school board officials prioritizing their own political careers, and parents who choose not to teach their kids that school is a place to learn and they need to respect the learning needs of everyone in the room (even if there are 40 kids in the class). Teachers are not safe, physically or emotionally. We are battered by the press- INCLUDING YOU, maligned by the government, smeared in public on social media, made the butt of jokes by network TV shows, and treated to abuse (both emotion and physical) by an alarmingly increasing number of students and parents alike. In addition, so that our district’s “report cards” won’t look bad, we are FORCED to sacrifice our integrity and lie on student report cards so that nobody gets a failing grade, even f they haven’t done a thing all semester. The kids aren’t stupid. They have caught on to this and are going just as low as the district puts the bar. Same with behavior. If kid gets into a fight, steals, constantly disrupts, or hits a teacher, and they get sent to the office, and then return with candy and a smile- and sometimes a middle finger. Again, the kids aren’t stupid. They know the system and they know there are no consequences. What is this teaching them? Seriously. Are we helping or enabling? Teachers have no civil or human rights. If a patient stalks a doctor- the patient goes to jail. If a student or parent stalks a teacher- teacher gets reprimanded or fired. I mean, come on- we don’t get time to go to the bathroom when we need to- how basic is that? Stop blaming the teachers for what’s going on. The majority of us went into the profession to try to make a better future for our students but as the saying goes… you can only push a loyal person so far.

    1. Well said!–Straight and to the point! That covers our profession in a nutshell! — All true. Thank you!

  3. I have been teaching 4th and 5th grade for 30 years at a low income school in Central California. I am highly qualified and have tried to educate children to the best of my ability over these years. In California there are many challenges teachers face, but in my district the biggest problem I see is the stress, mental health and safety of teachers. I have noticed over the past 10 years an increase in children who are more angry, have low self-esteem and don’t care about learning. This has lead to increased misbehavior and beligerance in the classroom. California has made it difficult for teachers to manage these highly charged students who create chaos in the classroom. For example, the more suspensions a school has, the lower their score is on the system that manages scores for the state test. Lower scores mean more look and repercussions from state officials. Principals don’t want a low score so they purposely avoid suspending students for actions they should be suspended for. Consequently, nothing much is done to shape the student’s benavior and the student continues to do the same misbehavior. This leads to less control in the classroom for the teacher with the students which leads to stress and mental health issues for the teacher. California is in need to come back to a more balanced approach to disciplining children and be more supportive of the classroom environment. Yes, these problem children need to be educated, but their misbehavior cannot be the driving force in the classroom.

    1. I should have added that with this stress in the classroom, teachers either go into administration, switch schools to a better environment or quit. With this teacher shortage, more can be done overall to improve the classroom environment so teachers can teach. Why would someone want to start a career that creates so much stress in their life and they can’t control the outcomes. Teaching can be rewarding one year, but that feeling can easily be taken away by behaviors that create a highly chaotic atmosphere the next year.

    2. You hit the nail on the head. Florida does the same to keep suspension rates down— as in, they just don’t suspend. Kids know they have no actual consequences.

    3. You are absolutely correct. You need to address the problem before you can educate. You are put in a position and are not supported by those who are not in the trenches with you.

    4. This is the crux of the problem. Well stated. I should add that my state requires an incredible amount of professional development and support via a teacher induction program. Unfortunately it is absolutely unnecessary and burdensome.

  4. I have been teaching science to middle school students for about 13 years, mostly in a high poverty, high trauma school. What I saw on a daily basis was schools run by admins who have a reform-minded agenda, pushed by state & federal depts. of education and based upon shrinking budgets. This often results in a significant lack of objective decision making. Unfortunately many schools are run as if those in charge are running a popularity contest for their chosen, or desired clique. Couple that with intensely scrutinous evaluations, and students who have significant, unchecked behavior challenges & you’ve got problems. The problem will never resolve itself until teachers are fairly compensated, class sizes are reduced and teachers are given less, rather than more tasks to do per hour or per day

  5. As a mother to a 7th grade female student I’m finding this is a bigger problem than ever expected or realized. Unfortunately this is compromising the education and the future of hundreds of thousands of students every day. We have teachers that don’t really care to be teachers or we have teachers that are double and triple layered with classes that they’re responsible for. As a result our children are being put in larger classes, our children are having their education compromised because if there’s not enough teachers for specific areas they just don’t have those classes. Their education and future is being stifled by the situation, between not ensuring that good teachers get proper pay and compensation and not ensuring the good reliable teachers that actually want to teach are the ones that are going into the school system. This is something that is hitting hard at home this year and is very heartbreaking and devastating to look into the future of what is available for these children including my own. We have principals counselors and teachers incorrectly certified or ines thst have not completed certifications. We have situations where some of these personnel even dislike students or are biased towards specific students or circumstances. These situations are not ensuring that our children are the future of the country are being properly educated and taught how to move forward and how to be the future of the world.

  6. I’m retiring after 26 years. The discipline problems in the lower-socioeconomic schools are horrendous! The disrespectful students keep me from teaching—I’m a referee in the classroom—breaking up fights, etc. I’ve had enough!

    1. I understand that. For 17 years I taught jr. high in Title I school. Regular, Inclusion and Gifted. I finally got to the point where I could not do five preps a day with one 46 minute planning. I finally left and now teach 5th grade gifted in a higher socioeconomic school in the same district. What a world of difference. It’s not perfect and the pay still sucks, my stress level is way down.

    2. I retired after 26 years in a majority minority school. For about 22ish years I loved my job and felt that I was making a difference. In 2015 the administration refused to discipline disruptive students. @ David R Bean is absolutely correct. The principal, the superintendent, and the school board are more concerned about the school’s “report card” than anything else. This means that students can get away with anything. Once the students realize this, they push the boundaries to the absolute breaking point. The only thing a student is not allowed to do is have a weapon on campus. Although, I do know for a fact that a student who had a gun one week was back the next to take the EOCs because the state insists that everyone take the tests = it will lower our school’s report card if *any* student misses those all important tests.

      Anyway, some students are outrageously out of control. No one does a single thing about it. The rules as they are written are certainly not enforced. The teachers are not backed up. The good and average kids are denied a decent education in the process because the barbarians are in control.

      I left for a private school. Sure, some of the kids are entitled and spoiled. However, most are a true delight. The pay is awful. I don’t really care. My stress is gone. I can actually teach.

    1. That’s the problem. What other profession do we have where working professionals actively work to not promote the profession?

      1. My husband and I are teachers, and both of our daughters planned to be teachers, but since 2008, teaching in Indiana is unbearable. My older daughter finished her special ed degree, but went to an OT masters program to avoid teaching. My younger daughter switched to teaching. I can’t have them taking any student loans to go on to teach and make $25,000. My husband has taught HS biology, anat/physio, he has a masters and barely makes $60k, after 30 years of teaching. No way can we encourage our daughters to teach in the classrooms of today when there is a lack of admin support, and testing is a priority. When Gov Mitch Daniels was in office, he sent teaching to hell in a hand basket.
        On-line schools are coming.

    2. I am a retired teacher and when my niece said she was going to follow in my footsteps, I screamed, “No…” and today she is a very successful lawyer. I’m so proud of her. She has her own business.

  7. I worked as a third grade teacher in an inner city, high poverty school for fifteen years. I loved my students and worked hard to help them. There is very little respect for teachers and kids with a background of trauma bring it to school. I have been hit, cussed, yelled at, and had desks thrown at me. Kids who would run from the room and disrupt the learning for everyone else while I tried to find the runner. They would come to third grade reading at pre-primer levels and I was expected to bring them up to grade level for the “big test”. Many of these children didn’t know where they were going to sleep at night and trying to motivate them to take a test was crazy. I have had to wash and dry student’s clothes at school, bought their snack, paid for their field trips and all their school supplies. To have parents attack you and threaten you, when you have given more to their kids than your own family, was too much to take. Our school had some of the brightest and hardest working teachers you could find, but the stress takes its toll and they all eventually moved on to a better environment. When over half of your class is on medication it is crazy. My family made the decision for me and I transferred to a less stressful work environment. I felt such guilt at leaving them, but I haven’t had a migraine all year!

  8. I worked for years for a large urban district. Nepotism and cronyism ran rampant!. I worked for principals who allowed people that they liked to come and go as they pleased. Many administrators used staff assigned to specific positions as their own personal secretaries. When one tried to get help from a supervisor, so that student to teacher ratio was legally represented, (and needed) they were unable to assist due to the layers of cover up involved in keeping friends of the higher ups protected. I was there to do the best job possible with limited resources. Finally one day after 10 years of fighting city hall and a corrupt school district I just gave up. I went above and beyond every day. If I had just gone in and shut my mouth I would still be working and farther ahead financially. Due to the fact that I had ethics and an unwavering dedication to my special needs students I finally said enough is enough. I still have PTSD from those years.

    1. Schools will close. B of Ed funding cuts lead crisis in our school
      Result private school De Voss’s
      goal. End PS education.

  9. Attaching thevteachers scores with the students exam score has a lot to do with high poverty teacher shortage. The fact that the government and society blame teacher in high poverty schools for low test score discourages anyone that in new to stay. People that make educational law or policy often have never set foot in s school. We need jobs that require HS diplomas that kids could seeehy it’s important to graduate.

    1. Teachers in high poverty schools also have to address systemic social issues like the effects of trauma, poverty and racism on children. Often teacher education programs fail to equip teachers to recognize and address these problems. The public blaming of teachers for low test scores reveals how little the rest of the country understands that the problems in public schools are directly related to problems in our society as a whole.

  10. This is not real in Michigan. 10 years since I’ve graduated I’ve only had a couple long term sub jobs. I’ve had guns pointed at me, knives, had desktop computers thrown at me, etc. I’ve had an interview with the last month where 20 people were interviewed. Please, stop telling these poor HS kids there is some golden opportunity for them. There isn’t.

    1. If you stop telling kids that there’s opportunity out there, then there will be more guns, knives and violence. By helping them FIND the opportunity, you lessen that.

    2. I don’t know where you are in Michigan, but there are definitely jobs in Metro Detroit. The problem is, charter schools have become the place most teachers have to start, and we’ve got far too many of those, underpaying and mistreating their staff.

  11. I am a teacher in a low-income district. I am highly qualified to teach middle school science as well as primary K-5. I have been teaching 22 years. I currently teach 7/8 grade science but desperately need to move to primary, in hopes that my stress level will be reduced. I know science teachers are needed, but the stress level is too great for me to continue in the capacity.

    1. The article didn’t mention that the behavior of the students and the parents are a factor in teachers leaving the field.

  12. It’s too much effort for the pay. Evaluations, parents . Work done for no pay, all of this makes teachers feel like they aren’t worth it.

    1. I believe you response would echo that of many teachers–whether new or experienced. So very sad, and it reveals multiple areas that must be addressed in order for there to be change!

      1. Correct! And the behaviors that the kids are allowed to get away with are unbelievable. The legislators who are not in the schools have no idea and are destroying education and running teachers off!

        1. They don’t care because they go home to perfect children who don’t have problems and their goal is to keep the poor kids uneducated.

  13. It almost doesn’t pay to be “highly qualified” to be a teacher. Average college loan debt for a teacher right now is $31,000. Average teacher salary across the U.S. = $58, 300 per year. (But 36 states pay below the national average.) You can automatically take away roughly 1/3 of that for taxes and retirement, so figure to bring home around $39,000. Divide that by 12 months, and you get $3,250/month. Don’t even get me started on teacher insurance! Federal poverty income for a family of three, such as a single mom and two kids = $21, 3000. Average monthly car payment = $523. Median monthly house payment/apartment rental = $1030. So a single teacher mom with two kids, living on an average income and with an average car payment and average house payment will have $1697 left to live on for the month. Clothes, toothpaste, toilet paper, house cleaning supplies, one trip to the doctor for a kid with a fever that won’t break, school supplies, gasoline, car insurance and tags, and oh yes FOOD for the month still have to come out of all that. And paraprofessionals who work almost as hard as teachers get an average of $12.01 per hour — $480 per week, for 36 weeks a year — a whopping $17, 280. I know paraprofessionals who buy the school insurance for their family and get a check for roughly SEVENTEEN DOLLARS PER MONTH.

    1. I’m a paraprofessional in Al
      an we make 8.10 an hour thru Kelly. It’s horrible what we have to endure an are paid nothing.
      Looking for another way to earn a living plus impart positive behaviors.

    2. I’ve been experiencing this for years…’ve got your math right…but after 20 plus years…I wasn’t making the national average.

    3. Oh, this makes me cry. Just this year I finally hit $58,000 in my state. I started teaching in 1996.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *