Teacher shortage in the US is
An EPI report has found that "The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought." Source: Unsplash

Reports on teacher shortages in K12 schools are nothing new. But a think-tank has found that the teacher shortage in the US is worse than initially thought, with high-poverty schools suffering most.

“When indicators of teacher quality (certification, relevant training, experience, etc.) are taken into account, the shortage is even more acute than currently estimated, with high-poverty schools suffering the most from the shortage of credentialed teachers,” said the report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The authors add 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 recognised.”

They explain that the current national estimates of the teacher shortage likely understates the magnitude of the problem, since estimates “consider the new qualified teachers needed to meet new demand”, but not all current teachers meet the requirements (i.e. education, experience and certification) associated with being a qualified teacher.

The consequences

Authors note that a lack of qualified teachers can lead to numerous issues, including:

  • Threatens students’ ability to learn
  • Causes instability in schools’ teacher workforce (i.e. high turnover and/or high attrition) which negatively impacts student achievement and diminishes teacher effectiveness and quality
  • Is a waste of economic resources (i.e. through costs of recruiting and training new teachers) that could be better deployed elsewhere
  • Hinders the reputation of teaching as a profession
  • Affects the US education system’s goal of providing a sound  and equal education to all children, as the shortage is distributed unevenly among students of different socioeconomic backgrounds

Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds lose out  

As the teacher shortage is worse in high-poverty schools, students from a lower socioeconomic backgrounds stand to lose out most as a result.

EPI’s data shows that over 80 percent of teachers in low-poverty schools have over five years of experience, compared to 75 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools.

Certification-wise, 72.5 percent of teachers who work in low-poverty schools have an educational background in the subject of main assignment, compared to 66 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools.

Addressing the teacher shortage

The teacher shortages must be resolved quickly, and EPI notes that it’s vital to tackle working conditions and other factors that are prompting teachers to quit or dissuading people from entering the profession. These include low pay levels, challenging school environments and weak professional development support and recognition.

More support and funding is also needed for high-poverty schools where teacher shortages are acute.

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