Teacher Shortages: What’s the Problem?

Posted by on October 31, 2016 in Commentary, Featured | 0 comments

The issue of teacher shortages has again become a focal point in media and policy discussions. The focus is needed – many of our highest need schools continue to struggle with recruiting and retaining the best teachers, particularly in the areas of math, science, special education, and bilingual education. When we survey the current education landscape to see if every child has access to great teaching, we find that some progress has been made, but it is unevenly distributed. We have had these conversations for years, but the data make it clear there are major disparities that continue to exist across racial and economic lines.

  • The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education indicate that students in high-poverty districts are twice as likely to be taught by teachers with temporary alternative licenses as students in low-poverty districts. This includes both urban and rural high-poverty schools.
  • More than half a million Black students attend schools where at least one out of every five teachers does not meet state certification requirements. Black students are more than four times as likely and Hispanic students are twice as likely as White students to attend these schools.
  • By every measure of teacher qualifications — including SAT scores, GPA, licensing, major, selectivity of undergraduate institution, experience, and others — high-poverty students and students of color are least likely to be taught by well-prepared, profession-ready teachers.

If we are to ensure that every child graduates from high school ready for college and career, we must change the ways we recruit, prepare, and retain teachers. Also, in order to address teacher shortages, state education leaders must have a deep understanding of what shortages and staffing needs exist and why, and then develop policies that specifically address local teacher supply and demand.

In NCTAF’s newest report, What Matters Now: A New Compact for Teaching & Learning, we propose systemic changes to address our country’s national recruitment challenge. The report highlights that shortages are in part a reaction to the problematic conditions we expect teachers to work under, and the lack of alignment between what they learn in their preparation program and what they experience in their early classrooms.

And, even when we are successful in recruiting and preparing diverse, qualified candidates, nearly a third leave the profession within the first three years. Half of all teachers in urban school systems leave within the first five years. This turnover has numerous negative costs and consequences from a loss of financial investments in new teachers to a disruption in school culture as well as the academic and developmental costs to children who experience these losses over multiple years.

The continued chronic teacher attrition and shortage problems tell us that we must be more strategic about how we recruit educators; we must invest in robust teacher preparation programs that include clinical practice (at least a full year of teacher candidates working with supervising teachers, who model excellent teaching with diverse students); and we must provide all beginning teachers with high-quality induction and mentoring programs. Perhaps most importantly, these three strategies must be connected and aligned in order to change the current tide.

One strategy worth more attention is professional development schools – they are not new, but they are succeeding at addressing gaps in access and in alignment of preparation and support. These “teaching schools” develop as a result of a strong university and school district partnership, which sets the stage for faculty from the school and teacher preparation program to develop curriculum, improve instruction, and undertake school reform. Many also advance educational equity by addressing the legacies of tracking, disparities in resource allocation, and systems that don’t respond to the cultural and economic needs of families and students.

The University of Colorado Denver (UCD) has built an extensive partnership with six Denver Metro Area school districts resulting in the Professional Development School (PDS) Network. The network allows teacher candidates to be immersed in real-world experiences while being mentored by practicing teachers and UCD faculty.

Studies of highly-developed PDS programs have found that graduates feel better prepared to teach and are rated as stronger than other new teachers by their employers and independent researchers. Veteran teachers working in such schools confirm that their own practice improves as a result of the professional learning and mentoring they engage in. In addition, there are documented gains in student performance tied to curriculum and teaching interventions resulting from PDS initiatives.

State leaders can find full details about UDC’s program and additional examples of how others are aligning recruitment, preparation, and retention in NCTAF’s report.

In your work, what solutions have you seen employed by schools, districts, or states to address our current teacher recruitment and retention problem? Let us know!


Elizabeth Foster, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, manages NCTAF’s research and policy analysis projects, program evaluation, and contributes to NCTAF’s development and direction.


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