Teacher shortages worsening in majority of US states, study reveals


Teacher shortages are worsening across the US for the majority of states, according to an exclusive survey by the Guardian.

The Guardian contacted all US states’ departments and boards of education, and other official bodies. Forty-one states responded; nine others declined to provide relevant data or did not respond to requests for information.

The study found:

  • Of the 41 states that did respond to the survey, 28 say they are experiencing teacher shortages.
  • Of those 28, 15 say teacher shortages have increased in the last year.
  • Of the nine states that didn’t respond to the survey, public data suggests another eight are experiencing teacher shortages.

Schools are struggling to fill positions in science, special education and mathematics, and often have trouble keeping teachers because of low salaries, high student loans, and reduced budgets.

Some states are turning to emergency or short-term licensure to put more teachers in the classroom.

Short-term licensure, which is labelled and categorized in different ways across all 50 states, represents a quick fix to the teaching crisis. Empty positions are filled by teachers who may have a bachelor’s degree, or certification in another topic, but still have further education requirements to complete. Temporary or emergency licensure allows them an allotted amount of time to complete additional requirements while working legally.

The education nonprofit Learning Policy Institute (LPI) says this policy puts less effective teachers in the classroom.

The Guardian study found some states do not track unfilled positions on a statewide level at all. Alaska, Colorado and Maryland have just begun to keep records of unfilled positions – something they have never done before. All are states that have teacher shortage issues.

Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Illinois, South Carolina, Florida, and Virginia all track unfilled positions statewide. These eight states are using this data to bring attention to their vacancies and push emergency short-term licensure as a temporary solution.

The other 30 states do not track unfilled positions statewide, and in some circumstances, said only district level numbers were available.

Where is this happening?

Shortages have increased in parts of every region of the US in the past year.

In California, which has the largest number of public school students in the US, 80% of districts reported a shortage of qualified teachers in 2017-2018, and nine out of 10 of those districts said the situation was worse than the previous school year. California has about 305,000 total teachers in K-12 public schools.

The California department of education told the Guardian the greatest growth has been in emergency-style permits known as provisional intern permits (PIP) and short-term staff permits (STSP). In 2015–16, California had over 4,000 teachers on PIPs and STSPs, nearly five times as many as in 2012–13. About 1,700 PIPs and STSPs were issued in special education and over 450 in mathematics and science.

Vacancies are a prevalent problem in rural states. An Oklahoma department of education spokesperson said: “We have already seen a record-breaking number of emergency certifications presented to the state board of approval – 2,153 this year.” The state has more than 44,000 certified teachers, but additionally allows over 4,000 more to work on emergency certification.

The school year in Oklahoma is beginning with nearly 500 teaching vacancies – despite the heavy reliance on underqualified emergency instructors.

The Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) surveyed districts statewide in 2018, and 276 districts (78% of the total public schools) responded. More than half of those superintendents said teacher hiring is worse this year compared to last year.

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