Teacher Shortage Report Diagnoses Causes, Suggests Fixes

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

A new report released by the Learning Policy Institute has examined the teacher shortage issue facing the United States and suggested strategies to be used in order to attract, as well as keep, high-quality teachers.

The report, “Solving the Teacher Shortage: How to Attract and Retain Excellent Educators,” states that teacher shortages are one of the most pressing issues facing policymakers today, as they are constantly determining how to staff classrooms with a stable teaching staff who can handle the needs of students and the increasing demands of the knowledge economy.

Authors Anne Podolsky, Tara Kini, Joseph Bishop, and Linda Darling-Hammond suggest teacher shortages are the result of declines in teaching and also high rates of teacher attrition, particularly within low-income schools.  They state that, often, student achievement and school improvement efforts suffer because of these shortages.

The report goes on to say that it is important to have a complete understanding of why teachers both enter and leave the profession, as well as what might entice them to stay, in order to improve the educational opportunities for students, and especially those who are enrolled in the most disadvantaged schools.

It is suggested that five major factors influence each teacher’s decision to enter, stay, or leave the profession.  These factors include salaries and additional compensations, preparations and cost to enter, hiring and personnel management, new teacher support, and working conditions such as school leadership, professional collaboration, accountability systems, and available resources for staff members.

As a result, study authors list a number of policy recommendations that they say could help to decrease teacher shortages across the country.

First, they say teacher salaries should be increased in communities where the salaries offered are not high enough to maintain a middle-class lifestyle.  In order to accomplish this, they suggest implementing statewide salary minimums, or offering salary incentives for completing certain tasks such as National Board Certification.  They also suggest offering housing incentives such as rent, relocation, or down payment assistance.

They go on to say that federal levers in the new Every Student Succeeds Act should be used to provide additional resources for low-income schools and districts, that they say will then attract and retain high-quality teachers.

In addition, they say career advancement opportunities that offer increased compensation should be offered.

They also suggest service scholarships and loan forgiveness programs.  The most successful of these programs they say would cover all or a large portion of tuition, target high-needs fields and schools, and recruit academically successful teachers.

Also recommended is the creation of a cross-state pension portability allowing teachers to retain their benefits if they move.  Current benefit plans do not allow this, causing many teachers to leave the profession altogether if they move across state lines.

Among other recommendations, the authors suggest the implementation of high-quality principals who ensure teachers are included in decision-making while also work to create a positive school environment.

The authors conclude by saying it will be left to individual localities to determine which set of policies are most appropriate for individual states, districts, or schools.