Teacher shortages are felt in both urban and rural districts across the U.S., but according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the impact is unevenly distributed along socioeconomic lines. Schools that are in high-poverty areas have a bigger problem with attracting certified teachers with experience in the subject(s) they teach. This problem undermines teacher effectiveness, threatens the students’ ability to learn, and leads to greater teacher turnover.
The study is the first in a series that examines the causes, consequences, and possible solutions in the volatile teacher labor market. Not only is the deficit real, it is worse than originally thought.
When the economy recovered after the recession and school budgets increased, districts started looking for teachers again. However, they found that it was more challenging to fill those positions than they had expected. The effects have been long-reaching and continue today. Of particular concern is finding qualified teachers in special education, science, and mathematics.
Many reports from the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) indicate that the teacher shortage is not only alarming but that there are just not enough educators in specialty fields with the current wages offered. While there are many highly qualified teachers scattered throughout the country, not all educators have the certification, experience, and education requirements to meet those guidelines.
The EPI report indicates that there is an unequal distribution of highly qualified educators in schools for low-income students, and the problem is more severe than previously believed. California is especially hard-hit, according to a 2017 report from LPI where 2/3 of principals in poverty-stricken schools hired less than qualified teachers or simply left positions unfilled because they were unable to hire teachers with the required skills.
Of the open teacher positions in Illinois in 2017, 90% were in school districts with less than adequate funding. Low-income districts had 81% of the vacancies, and 74% were in majority-minority school districts.
Schools with high-poverty levels are more likely than schools in traditional districts to have educators with fewer credentials and less experience, as well as lacking significant knowledge in the subject matter they teach. These teachers are more apt to leave the education field, as well.
The relationship between having strong credentials and remaining in a school or district weakens in high poverty schools (EPI study). Richard Ingersoll reports that half of teacher attrition occurs in 25% of public schools in mostly high-poverty rural and urban locations.
There are no indications that the teacher shortage issue is lessening, particularly in impoverished schools and districts. The problem will only get better when leaders understand that this lack of credentialed teachers is due to increased job stress, the teacher pay gap, and demoralization, as well as a lack of training, mentoring, and suitable professional development programs. EPI plans to investigate these challenges and possible solutions in future studies.
To find an equitable resolution to the teacher shortage crisis, it is necessary to recognize why it is occurring and the unique nature of the teacher labor market. Only then will there be a solution that benefits the districts, schools, teachers, and students.