Districts Facing Teacher Shortages Look for Lifelines

You may have been hearing in the news about teacher shortages in various communities around the country. Looking a little bit more closely at these situations reveals that, while enrollment in teacher preparations programs has certainly declined in recent years, there does not appear to be an across-the-board problem with finding and hiring teachers in the United States. The struggle for certain districts to find qualified teachers is largely a regional problem.

Kansas has probably made the most headlines. Here is an excerpt from an Education Week article about the situation there:

In Kansas, the state board of education passed a measure in July allowing unlicensed teachers to work in six “innovative coalition” districts (most of which are rural). That move followed earlier rules easing licensure requirements for teachers in STEM subject areas.

For obvious reasons, many educators and concerned citizens find fault with systems that can only manage to fill gaps with teachers who have not been fully prepared.

On the other hand, New York State, as one example, has a significant large surplus of certified teachers.

The obvious solution would be to create a situation in which qualified teachers without teaching jobs in places like New York State would be able to move and work in areas like Kansas where qualified teachers are needed. But the situation is not that simple.

Three factors are largely responsible for the continued regional differences in the need for teachers. First, teachers mainly want to stay and work in their home communities—where they went to school or where they currently live. Second, certification rules are different across states and do not make it easy for teachers to transfer their certifications. And third, pay compared to cost of living for teachers varies widely from state to state.

Some districts have managed to overcome these challenges:

Public relations campaigns have helped some districts land new hires. The San Francisco school district, for instance, has managed to fill many of its gaps, although it is still looking for bilingual and high school math teachers, according to a district spokesperson. Those fields, along with special education, are common shortage areas across the country.

In a large and diverse country like the United States, this issue does not look likely to go away anytime soon. However, more could certainly be done across states and school districts to find ways to ensure that qualified teachers find the jobs that they have been prepared for and that students need them to do.

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