Analysis of Projected Need Overview
Samantha Cleaver, Phd
As early as March 2022, schools were ringing alarm bells about a potential teacher shortage during for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2022) reported that 44% of public schools were projecting full or part-time teaching vacancies. Among the reasons listed for the shortage: teacher retirements, resignations, and the COVID-19 pandemic (Jothoff, 2022).
The projected need for teachers is the anticipated number of teachers that schools need to recruit and hire to be fully staffed with teachers who are qualified in their area of. Concerns about the projected need for teachers arise when teachers leave the profession, or when there is an increase in anticipated demand for teachers without a subsequent increase in supply.
This overview covers the projected need for teachers, including teacher shortages, research on this topic and recommendations for school and district leaders. It addresses the questions:
- o How do we understand the projected need for teachers?
- o Does the need for teachers change from location to location?
- o What is the projected need for teachers in specific fields?
- o What drives teacher shortages?
- o What impact has COVID-19 had on the projected need for teachers?
Understanding the Education Labor Market
On the surface, the job market for teachers involves supply and demand. There is the demand for teachers, or the number of teachers that are needed to staff schools. Then, there is the supply, or the number of teachers available to take those jobs. Across the United States, we can think about the teaching market as 50 separate state labor markets, and then separate markets within states (e.g., rural vs. urban; Sutcher et al., 2019).
In the broader job market, the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demand for teachers will increase at a consistent rate. The demand for kindergarten and elementary school teachers is projected to increase 7% between 2020 and 2030, as fast as would be expected based on the job market in general (BLS, kindergarten and elementary school teachers). The demand for high school teachers is project to increase 8% between 2020-2030, similarly, as expected (BLS, high school teachers). Finally, the demand for special education teachers is projected to increase 8% between 2020 and 2030 (BLS, special education teachers).
However, even if the demand for teachers continues as expected, if the supply does not keep up with demand because fewer teachers are entering the job pool (Associated Press, 2021; Butler, 2021; Strauss, 2021), or more teachers than expected leave the profession (Jothoff, 2022), then there is the possibility of a teacher shortage.
Teacher shortages occur when schools cannot fill teacher vacancies with highly-qualified people (Sutcher et al., 2016). Put another way, a teacher shortage is measured by the balance between teacher supply and demand (Sutcher, 2019). When the projected demand for teachers does not align with the supply, the public education system suffers (Garcia & Weiss, 2019). In 2017, nearly every state reported teacher shortages of some sort (U. S. DOE, 2017).
In general, schools face staffing challenges. Garcia and Weiss (2019a) reported that, before COVID-19, a high number of teachers were leaving their classrooms; 13.8% were either moving schools or leaving teaching. Schools were also having trouble filling vacancies left by attrition or created by increasing student enrollment and other policy changes (Garcia & Weiss, 2019a).
The percent of schools trying to fill a vacancy without success tripled from 2011-2012 to 2015-2016 (increasing from 3.1 to 9.4%; Garcia & Weiss, 2019a). Adding to this is a decline in the applicant pool. From 2008-2009 to 2015-2016, there was a 15.4% drop in the number of degrees awarded in education and a 27.4% drop in the number of people who completed teacher preparation programs (Garcia & Weiss, 2019a). In general, the concerns and challenges are more significant for high-poverty and high-minority schools (Garcia & Weiss, 2019a).
There are various indicators that can illuminate shortages or projections:
- State workforce reports: State level shortage information, and information about how many states are hiring teachers who are not fully qualified for their teaching positions.
- Employer reports: The difficulty employers have to fill vacancies. For example, data from the annual survey from American Association for Employment in Education surveys higher education institutions and districts to gauge which districts report having enough candidates to fill positions (AAEE, 2017).
- Reports of uncertified teachers: The number of positions that were filled by teachers who are not fully certified is a sign of imbalance in the market between supply and demand (Sutcher et al., 2019). This indicator may underreport shortages because states only report the uncertified teachers in core academic areas and because districts may take other measures to address positions left unfilled (e.g., combining classes, adjusting student-teacher ratios, hiring substitutes; Sutcher et al., 2019).
Factors that are prompting teachers to quit include relatively low pay, safety hazards, challenges of the work environment, lack of respect for teachers’ by the general public, and uneven access to useful professional development (Garcia & Weiss, 2020).
History of Teacher Shortages
Teacher shortages are not a new phenomenon in education; staffing challenges have been documented back to the Great Depression (Sherratt, 2016; Sutcher et al., 2019). Certain subjects (STEM, special education) have seen perpetual shortages since mid-20th century (Ingersoll & Perda, 2010; U. S. DOE, 2017). The 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, described shortages of teachers in math, science, foreign language, gifted and talented, English Language Learning, and special education (Gardner, 1983).
After 2008, during the Great Recession, demand for teachers dropped as budgets were cut and states could not afford to hire teachers (Sutcher et al., 2019). When districts started hiring teachers again after years of layoffs, districts found that they had trouble finding qualified teachers, especially for those already hard-to-staff areas (e.g., STEM; Sutcher et al., 2016)
Some have called the teacher shortage “a myth” (Gantert, 2015) or “overblown” (Barshay, 2016). Dee and Goldhaber (2017) posit that teacher shortages are not widespread, but present only in hard-to-staff localities and areas (e.g., STEM). The argument is that there is not a shortage, but some hard-to-staff areas that can be addressed with specific salary raises rather than broader policies (Aldeman, 2016; Antonucci, 2016). Some argue that shortages are cyclical and will solve themselves over time (CA Legislative Analysis Office 2016). These questions lead to questions about what will happen without policy interventions, including what will happen to students if shortages are not addressed or are left to reach equilibrium on their own (Podolsky & Sutcher, 2016; Sutcher et al., 2019). When the market is left to correct itself, students are at a disadvantage, in overcrowded classrooms with under-qualified teachers. It is also worth noting that these observations were made prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had an impact on teacher supply and demand as well.
There has been little academic research on the extent or existence of shortages (Sutcher, et al. 2019). On the whole, limitations in national data have often prevented exact estimates of the size of shortages (Sutcher et al., 2019). Research on teacher shortages and turnover has focused at the state and local level (e.g., Berg-Jacobson & Levin, 2015; Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017; Ingersoll, 2001; Ingersoll & May, 2012; Ingersoll & Strong, 2011).
In a 2016 Learning Policy Institute report, Sutcher et al. (2016) used federal databases to examine the context and future trends for the supply and demand of teachers. At the time, a teacher shortage was predicted by 2025, creating an estimated need of 300,000 new teachers by 2020 and 316,000 by 2025. Sutcher et al. (2016) posited that teacher shortages were driven by:
- A decline in enrollment in teacher preparation programs,
- District efforts to return to the same student-teacher ratios that existed before the recession,
- Increasing student enrollment, and
- High teacher attrition.
Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has injected a renewed urgency around teacher shortages. How the supply for teachers will look after the pandemic is over has yet to be seen; federal funds are being put towards remediating learning loss, and districts are creating remote learning options and bolstering mental health support for students, all of which influence district budgets (St. George et al., 2021).
Understanding the Projected Need for Teachers
Understanding the need for teachers involves parsing how districts can measure and manage supply and demand, what drives teacher shortages, and how current trends may impact future needs.
How do we understand the projected need for teachers?
The projected need for teachers (or demand) can be understood as the total number of teachers required to educate the nation’s students (3.1 million in 2015-2016) or the need to fill vacant positions.
There are various ways to create these projections. Sutcher et al. (2019) modeled demand for public school teachers from 2000 to 2025 using projections from NCES (Hussar & Bailey, 2014). Sutcher et al. (2019) also factored in nationally representative data sources including the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS).
The Sutcher et al. (2019) estimates take into consideration:
- Student Enrollment: An increase in enrollment would mean an increase in the demand for teachers. Student enrollment is estimated by considering birth rate, public school attendance rates, and migration patterns (Haggstrom et al., 1988).
- Student-Teacher Ratio: The number of teachers needed by a district depends on the desired class size and how school staff are used. To estimate this, researchers look at school budgets, economic conditions, and policies that may require certain ratios or class sizes (Haggstrom et al., 1988).
- Attrition: The number of teachers who leave the profession each year determines, in part, the number of new teachers who will need to be recruited to replace them (Haggstrom et al. 1988).
The challenge is balancing ideal and actual demand. Ideal demand requires estimating the ideal scenario (student- teacher ratio, teacher distribution by geography, etc). Actual demand represents reality, a need for teachers based on those actually hired and employed (Sutcher et al., 2019)
To understand any projected teacher shortages, the supply of teachers must be taken into account. Sutcher et al. (2019) modeled supply using enrollment and completer data from higher education, as well as data on teacher re-entry. Typically, teachers new to the field (those who have not previously taught) make up about half the annual supply of teachers (NCES, 2004; 2008; 2012). Re-entrants, or teachers who leave and then return to teaching, make up the other portion of teacher supply (Shields et al. 1999). In 2011-2012 SASS found 49% of teachers were re-entrants, however this data is from a year when the economy was expanding after the great recession so it may not be typical.
Finally, considering indicators of teacher quality are also important (e.g., certification, relevant training, experience). Garcia and Weiss (2019b) found that when quality indicators were taken into account, teacher shortages were even more acute. Put another way, when the question was focused on the supply and demand of high-quality teachers that have earned the indicators of effective teachers, the shortage was even more significant.
Does the need for teachers change from location to location?
In short, yes. The need for teachers varies from district to district. And, there can also be shortages within districts. For example, schools with high proportions of high poverty, high-minority students typically feel the largest impact of shortages (Sutcher et al. 2019). In 2013-2014, schools that had the top quartile of minority student enrollment had nearly four times as many uncertified teachers as schools in the bottom quartile of minority enrollment (Civil Rights Data Collection; Learning Policy Institute, 2018). This trend tends to increase during teacher shortages (Sutcher et al., 2019). Often, schools in high-poverty areas have conditions that are not conducive to teacher retention. School funding mechanisms that provide inequitable funding for schools in low-wealth areas mean that these schools are forced to offer lower salaries and poorer working conditions compared to better-resourced schools (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Adamson & Darling-Hammond, 2012).
What are the projected needs for teachers in specific fields?
There are some areas of education that are now well known for teacher shortages, namely math, science, special education, and bilingual education. In 2017-2018, 47 states and DC reported shortages in math and 43 states reported shortages in science (US DOE OPS, 2017). It is a particular challenge to recruit math and science teachers, as school districts are competing with other math and science careers that often pay much more and have more prestige than teaching (Sutcher et al., 2019). The general demand for workers is also increasing for these areas, which could make the shortages even more acute.
In 2017-2018, 46 states and D. C. identified special education as a shortage area (U. S. DOE, 2017). Of the 19 areas that had “considerable shortages,” 10 were in special education (i.e., cognitive disabilities, dual certification; AAEE). This area of need is particularly acute because students with disabilities require teachers who have specialized training in techniques that are proven effective.
Finally, bilingual education or ELL teaching is another area with shortages; 32 states reported shortages in these areas (US DOE OPE, 2017). English language learning shortage are particularly localized as the demand varies from district to district, and even school to school within a district (Sutcher, 2019).
What drives teacher shortages?
At the core, teacher shortages are an imbalance in the supply and demand. There are a variety of factors that drive shortages, including:
- o Production of new teachers in various fields,
- o Teacher turnover rates,
- o Changes in educational policy and teacher-student ratios, and
- o How attractive teaching is as a profession nationally and locally (Sutcher et al., 2019).
The economy and economic cycle also influences the teacher market. Dolton et al. (2003) found a significant relationship between the economic cycle and teacher supply in terms of relative wages and unemployment (but not GDP growth).
Another way to examine projected need for teachers is by examining the upcoming supply, or the number of university students who choose teaching as their major.
Bloom et al. (2015) examined the college majors who turned 20 between 1960 and 2011. It linked students’ decisions with macroeconomic trends (business cycles). When recessions hit, both men and women were less likely to want to become teachers and instead chose accounting, engineering, and similar fields. After the Great Recession, the shift back to full classrooms was not always smooth. Even in 2019, California had widespread shortages of elementary and secondary teachers as districts and schools worked to hire enough teachers to restore the same class sizes and course offerings that were cut during the Recession (Carver-Thomas et al., 2020).
What impact has COVID had on the projected need for teachers?
Education has been a flashpoint during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic was projected to exacerbate existing teacher shortages, and strain state and local budgets which could worsen states’ ability to meet demand moving forward (Rogers & Spring, 2020). While the full impact of the pandemic has yet to be seen, COVID-19 affected teacher supply and demand in two important ways: teacher working conditions and the impact on local and state budgets.
Even before COVID, teachers reported frustration and dissatisfaction with the combination of underfunding, challenging work environments, general distrust (Garcia & Weiss, 2019; Schultz, 2019; Weingarten, 2019). Results of a RAND American Teacher survey of teachers that compared data from early 2020 with information from 2021, found that (Zamarro et al., 2021b):
- Overall, teachers became less certain that they would stay in teaching until retirement. In March 2020, 74% of teachers said they expected to teach until retirement, compared to 69% in March 2021.
- More than 40% of teachers surveyed said they considered leaving or retiring, and over half of those cited the pandemic as the reason.
Another survey that focused on the teaching market during 2022, in the 3rd school year impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, reported by the National Education Association (Jothoff, 2022), found similar results:
- 55% of teachers reported that they would leave teaching earlier than they’d originally planned,
- 80% of educators stated that burnout was a serious problem,
- 80% of teachers said that taking on more work because of unfilled job openings in their district was a serious problem, and
- More than 75% of teachers indicated that low pay, student behavior problems, and lack of respect from parents and the public were concerns for them.
Heading into the 2022-2023 school year, reports of principals unable to fully staff their schools was an increasing concern (Lieberman, 2022). An Education Week survey of 255 principals and 280 district leaders found that schools were seeing fewer job candidates for positions from teachers to bus drivers (Lieberman, 2022). An American Federation of Teachers survey found that one in three teachers said the pandemic made them more likely to retire earlier (AFT, 2020). In another survey, teachers’ self-reported chance of leaving teaching within the next five years also increased from 24% in March 2020 to 30% in March 2021 (Zamarro et al., 2021).
In coming months and years, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt on the need (supply and demand) for teachers; we have yet to fully understand this impact.
The financial impact of the need for teachers will be unique to each district, based on the specific shortages, and the districts’ costs to recruit, train, and retain teachers.
There are ways to help districts align teacher supply and demand through planning, funding, and teacher working conditions.
First, it’s important to understand that teacher shortages are caused by multiple factors and require long-term solutions (Garcia & Weiss, 2020). Districts must be prepared to address all the factors behind a teacher shortage, and pursue long-term, comprehensive solutions.
Higher salaries can attract teachers to the profession (Adamson & Darling-Hammond, 2012). For example, Hawaii started paying special education teachers $10,000 more per year in 2020, and reduced the percent of uncertified special education teachers from 30% to 15% as a result (McCoy, 2022).
Addressing a teacher shortage also requires coordinated effort across stakeholders, including teachers. The factors fueling the teacher shortage impact existing teachers’ ability to do their jobs effectively. All stakeholders (e.g., school boards, unions, etc) must be recruited to coordinate efforts. Teachers must be primary in the problem-solving around teacher shortages.
Policies and Planning
No one policy can fully address the projected need for teachers or shortages (Sutcher et al., 2019). Federal, state, and local policies must function together to best address the projected need. Policies also cannot rely on market forces; leaving supply and demand of teaching to market forces will not even out the need or reduce inequities in the system (Podolsky et al., 2016).
On the whole, policies should elevate teacher voice and strengthen stronger learning communities. As teachers come into or continue in the profession after the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be very important to take teacher feedback and suggestions into account when making decisions and policies.
Currently, there is little information about how school systems go about recruiting and hiring teachers (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017). We know that being fully staffed at the start of the school year is important; students who are in classrooms staffed by teachers who are hired late (i.e., at the start of the school year) perform lower on math and reading tests (Papay & Kraft, 2016).
To maximize recruiting efforts, all stakeholders should work together. Universities can work to recruit future teachers to preparation programs. One way to do this is to strengthen and expand the relationships with local school districts and community colleges to recruit as many teacher candidates as possible. Recruiting candidates from the local school district, including high school students, school paraprofessionals, and other school personnel who may want to teach but do not have the credentials is one way to broaden the potential pool of applicants (Goe & Roth, 2019). Also, teacher preparation programs can also streamline requirements for entry into teacher preparation (e.g., high school and community college) Carver-Thomas et al. (2020).
School districts can recruit more broadly and in a targeted manner to address their specific needs (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017). For example, to address local shortages, districts could increase advertising and recruitment out of state, or partner with university programs to help funnel teachers from states that overproduce teachers to those that have a shortage (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017).
An increase in public investment in education would help fund local and state initiatives to address teacher shortages (Garcia & Weiss, 2020). For example, boosting funding for high-poverty schools that would help them recruit more and better teachers, or providing funds for districts to implement recruiting bonuses for high-need areas, like Hawaii’s program (McCoy, 2022).
Improve Working Conditions
Districts should identify and improve the working conditions, salary, and other factors that dissuade people from entering or staying in teaching (Garcia & Weiss, 2019b). Financial incentives would attract teachers to schools (but not retain them), while supportive working environments keep people at schools (See et al., 2020). Specific practices can address the challenges of different teaching roles. For example, providing special education teachers with additional planning time to meet the legal requirements of their role is one way to alleviate the stress of that job and address a specific stress that teachers say contributes to burnout (Ondrasek et al., 2020).
Increased salaries would help recruit and retain teachers (Adamson & Darling-Hammond, 2012). Increasing teacher pay would also attract new teachers and retain existing teachers (Garcia & Weiss, 2020). Pay rates that are competitive with other jobs would make teaching a more attractive profession. Furthermore, bringing investment (pay, etc) into line with what society professes about education (e.g., bringing pay in line with society’s claims about the importance of education) would demonstrate the value in teaching (Garcia & Weiss, 2020).
Providing senior teachers with retention bonuses could have a positive impact (Kim et al., 2016). A simulation by Kim et al. (2016) showed that a one-year bonus of $5,000 would add 3 teaching years to the career of a STEM teacher and 5 to 8 teaching years to a highly rated teacher. The cost of this ($30,000-50,000 per additional teaching year) is not small, but such a program would be cost effective if it targeted teachers with large positive impacts on student achievement.
Policies that reduce the debt that teachers have coming out of university impacts how easily they can work in education, as the more debt college student incur the less likely they are to work in lower wage professions, like teaching (Rothstein & Rouse, 2011). Scholarships and forgivable loans both result in higher entry rates and retention (Podolsky & Kini, 2016).
Principals can take steps to support hiring and retention at their schools:
- Provide teachers with mentoring and induction (Carver-Thomas et al., 2020). Mentoring and other supports that strengthen teachers’ sense of purpose, development and effectiveness can help retain teachers.
- Addressing concerns like student’s behavior, safety and mental health would allow teachers to focus on teaching rather than being “first responders.” This would reduce stress and improve safety. Using school-wide behavior systems that have research support, like Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS), may have a positive impact on teacher turnover. Houchens et al. (2017) used data from Kentucky to compare the working conditions between PBIS and non-PBIS schools and found that teachers in PBIS schools reported a stronger atmosphere of professional collegiality (trust and respect).
Teacher Training and Preparation
Teacher training is important, especially for keeping teachers in the field (Ingersoll et al. 2015; Marinell et al. 2013). In particular, training in aspects of teaching that teachers find challenging and are not covered sufficiently in teacher training programs, like behavior management (NCTQ, 2020).
Bolster Student Teaching
Student teaching is an important component of teacher preparation and can play an important role in developing new teachers for districts (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017). Specifically, where pre-service teachers complete their student teaching has an influence on teacher labor supply.
The location of a teacher candidate’s student teaching is more predictive of their first job than where they grew up; 40% of teachers got their first job teaching in the same district they did their student teaching (Krieg et al., 2016).
Hosting student teachers is a way for districts and schools to create a pipeline for future hiring (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017).
Streamline Teacher Licensure Transfer from State-to-State
Teacher licensure systems differ from state to state, which can present challenges when teachers want to relocate across state lines. Specifically, we don’t know how many teachers leave the profession because they can’t easily transfer their credentials from one state to another (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017). Creating license reciprocity across states could help alleviate this (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017).
Use alternative teacher licensure programs (e.g., Teach for America) to hire for hard-to-staff positions (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017). One survey of TFA candidates found that 43.6% stayed in their initial school placement for more than two years; 14.8% stayed for more than four years (Donaldson & Johnson, 2011).
Hiring teachers is one of the most important jobs that principals and districts do each year. The best way to ensure that each child receives a quality education is having highly-qualified teachers in each classroom. Teacher shortages, when the supply and demand for teachers is misaligned, creates strains in schools and is detrimental for students. Fortunately, by addressing the aspects that keep teachers from staying in the profession or from attracting teachers in the first place, and putting strong recruiting practices in place, can help schools recruit and retain teachers year after year.
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