Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Solving the Teacher Shortage: Revisiting the Lessons We've Learned

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Solving the Teacher Shortage: Revisiting the Lessons We've Learned

Article excerpt


Years ago, many states came up with effective ways to address teacher shortages only to see those efforts dismantled for political reasons. It is time to restore them.

Over the next decade, we will recruit and hire more than 2 million teachers for America's schools. More than half the teachers who will be teaching 10 years from now will be hired during the next decade. If we can focus our energies on preparing this generation of teachers with the kinds of knowledge and skills they need to succeed in helping students reach these goals and on creating schools that use their talents well, we will have made an enormous contribution to America's future.

--National Commission on Teaching & America S Future, 1996

Over two decades ago, in its landmark report What Matters Most, the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future issued a clarion call to policymakers to invest in strengthening the teaching profession, both to combat teachers' high rates of attrition and to build their capacity to help all students meet the higher academic standards needed for the 21st century. Until the states improve teacher preparation and working conditions, argued NCTAF, their public school systems will continue to experience shortages of caring, competent, and qualified teachers (NCTAF, 1996). Nor will states be able to fill the gap by rushing new recruits into the classroom, the report added: In the absence of meaningful training and support, teachers tend to exit the profession as quickly as they enter it, as though coming and going through a "revolving door" (Marinell et al., 2013).

In the wake of the NCTAF report, many states took bold steps to increase both the size and quality of the teaching workforce. Beginning in the late 1990s, policymakers funded a wide variety of efforts to improve teacher recruitment, preservice training, mentoring and induction, and ongoing professional development, including opportunities and incentives for teachers to seek national board certification (Darling-Hammond & Wei, 2009). Within a few years, researchers began to find that these policies were working, helping to strengthen the teacher pipeline and keep teachers in the profession (Guha et al., 2006). And yet, state policymakers gradually withdrew their support for these efforts, allowing them to wither on the vine.

Two decades later, the nation faces many of the same challenges identified in What Matters Most. Current teacher shortages vary somewhat more by region and subject area, but they are just as serious today as in the 1990s. In the 2015-16 school year, for example, 48 states and the District of Columbia reported shortages of teachers in special education, 42 reported shortages of math teachers, 40 reported shortages of science teachers, and 30 reported shortages of bilingual education/ESL teachers (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, 2015).

There are several reasons why the demand for teachers exceeds the supply once again:

* Student enrollment is on an upward trend -and expected to grow by 3 million in the next decade.

* Many districts and schools are trying to restore teacher positions and course offerings cut during the Great Recession.

* Fewer individuals are entering the profession: Between 2009 and 2014, enrollments in teacher preparation programs dropped 35% nationwide (from 691,000 in 2009 to 451,000 just five years later).

* The U.S. loses about 8% of its teachers annually; the attrition rate in this country is about two times as high as it is in top-performing nations like Finland and Singapore (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016).

The declining interest in teaching likely has much to do with subtle shifts in the nature of the profession. As top-down school reform increased under No Child Left Behind, teaching became less attractive to young people. …

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