“Among researchers, I think we’ve come to a consensus that there hasn’t been an exodus of teachers during the pandemic,” said Heather Schwartz, a researcher at RAND, a research organization nonprofit, which regularly surveys school districts nationwide. their workforce. “I don’t see many district leaders saying that we have a serious, serious shortage of teachers. I don’t see the crisis.
“Are we going to have shortages so extreme that we can’t even keep the doors open for schools? says Schwartz. “No, that’s not where policy makers need to spend their energy.”
Instead, as counterintuitive as it may seem, Schwartz found that 77% of schools went on a hiring spree in 2021-22 as $190 billion in federal pandemic funds began to trickle in. according to a RAND survey published July 19, 2022. “Yes, there is a shortage in the sense that they have unfilled vacancies. But it’s kind of a misnomer to say the word ‘shortage’ because by compared to the pre-pandemic period, there are more people employed in the school.
Imagine that Google decides to expand its ranks of computer programmers. It might be hard to find so many software engineers and it would seem like a shortage for IT hiring managers everywhere. This is what happens in schools.
To understand why teacher shortages have become a dominant scenario, it helps to start the story before the pandemic, when complaints about teacher shortages were common. But Goldhaber said there has never been a shortage anywhere or among any type of teacher. Shortages were concentrated in low-income schools and certain specialties. Affluent suburban schools may have dozens of applicants for an elementary teacher, while schools in poor urban neighborhoods and remote rural areas may struggle to find teachers certified in special education or to teach students who learn English.
The reasons for the different shortages vary. Many teachers enter special education but quickly leave the classroom. Teaching students with disabilities is hard work. Fewer aspiring teachers choose to specialize in math or science education. Initially there is less interest. Low-income schools have problems at both ends. Fewer people want to teach in low-income schools and once there, departures are high.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, schools had their usual pace of teacher departures. But the hiring stopped with everything else. Principals found it virtually impossible to replace teachers who had left.
“Imagine this big downturn in hiring,” RAND’s Schwartz said. “And then you come to the next school year and you’re understaffed — not because there are tons of people dropping out, but because you haven’t refreshed your roster.”
Many teachers fell ill from COVID or took days off to care for sick family members during the 2020-21 school year.
“So we had this temporary shortage of teachers who are on campus or in the field on any given day,” Schwartz said. “The districts did not have enough substitute teachers to meet these daily shortages.
Both problems worsened and created extreme shortages. Students sat in classrooms without teachers. Schools closed as variants swept through their communities.
The scenario suddenly shifted in the 2021-2022 school year as the federal government sent pandemic recovery funds to schools. Schools not only resumed hiring to fill vacancies, but also increased staffing to help children catch up on missed lessons. Many directors have hired additional corps to keep them on standby in anticipation of new coronavirus variants.
The largest areas of staff expansion were in substitute teachers, paraprofessionals, or teacher assistants and tutors. Ninety percent of schools surveyed by RAND have already increased their ranks of substitute teachers or are still trying to hire more. To attract replacements, schools increased pay from an average of $115 a day to $122 a day, adjusted for inflation, which Schwartz says is a bigger increase than in the industry. retail.
Schwartz doesn’t yet have data on the exact number of new hires, but she’s confident schools have increased their numbers. More than 40% of school districts surveyed also said they already have or plan to increase the number of regular teachers in elementary, middle and high schools from pre-pandemic levels.
“This hiring expansion is confusing if you’re thinking, wait, there’s a huge shortage of teachers,” Schwartz said. “It’s an ironic problem. So many schools had to scramble just to stay open and to stay staffed during severe shortages. Now we have this other weird problem of overstaffing.
It is understandable that so many of my colleagues in the media write about shortages. States have reported shortages to the federal government, and education advocates, such as Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association, have sounded the alarm. Part of the confusion lies in how shortages are counted. Goldhaber explained to me that there is no standardized way to define or document a shortage and if even one district out of hundreds reports difficulty hiring a particular type of teacher, some states will document this as a shortage. statewide in this category. Louisiana, for example, reports that it is experiencing shortages among 80% of its faculty.
On the other hand, the analysis of RAND is finer. “We asked schools what shortages they expected for the 22-23 school year and they didn’t anticipate a huge shortage,” Schwartz said. Three-quarters of districts said they expected a shortage, but most of them, 58%, said it would be a small shortage. Only 17% of districts expected a severe teacher shortage.
Schwartz says his biggest worry is not the current teacher shortage, but the teacher surplus when pandemic funds run out after 2024. School budgets will be further squeezed by declining birth rates in the states. States, as funding is tied to student enrolment. Schools are likely to lay off many educators in the coming years. “It’s not easy for schools to get rid of staff and maintain the quality of education for students,” Schwartz said.
It will not be good for the students.