Neal Morton of The Seattle Times has written an important piece about a topic that gets a lot of focus in education – the nationwide shortage of teachers. National media, politicians, teacher leaders and activists consistently cite reports that claim to show an alarming shortage of teachers in our public schools.
But new research from the Brookings Institution suggests we got it wrong. That teacher shortage we keep hearing about isn’t widespread and doesn’t cover most grades and subjects.
What subjects? Which schools? – If you’re a principal trying to hire a math, science or special education teacher, or if your school serves a significant number of low-income students, you’re struggling mightily to find teachers to fill those spots. And according to the research, that’s where the real teacher shortage is.
What to do – How can policymakers help school districts find and keep these high-demand teachers? The report makes specific recommendations, including better pay for teachers in science, math and special education, and for those working in schools with significant number of students living in poverty, recruiting teachers earlier and more aggressively, adjusting the number of student-teaching slots, providing more pathways to teaching through alternative licensing, easier licensing reciprocity so that teachers can more easily move to different states, and better educating prospective teachers on job prospects.
Probably won’t happen anytime soon – According the study’s authors, any movement away from a lockstep pay scale for teachers is unlikely in a state like Washington where union control over collective bargaining is strong. Here’s how the report’s author described it (from the article):
“It is not surprising in a place with a strong teachers’ union that you have relatively little differentiation” in pay . . . . “It undermines the purpose of the union, which is to bargain on behalf of all members.”
Investments that move the needle – As state legislators look to invest billions more in education, they should consider adopting policies that provide school districts with the tools they need to hire and retain teachers in high-demand areas.