The 2017-18 school year has started in many places across the country, and federal data shows that every state is dealing with shortages of teachers in key subject areas. Some are having trouble finding substitute teachers, too.
The annual nationwide listing of areas with teacher shortages, compiled by the U.S. Education Department, shows many districts struggling to fill positions in subjects such as math, the traditional sciences, foreign language and special education, but also in reading and English language arts, history, art, music, elementary education, middle school education, career and technical education, health, and computer science. That is not an exhaustive list.
Teacher shortages are nothing new — most states have reported some since data started being kept more than 25 years ago — but the problem has grown more acute in recent years as the profession has been hit with low morale over low pay, unfair evaluation methods, assaults on due-process rights, high-stakes testing requirements, insufficient resources and other issues.
According to a 2016 report by the nonprofit Learning Policy Institute, teacher education enrollment dropped from 691,000 to 451,000, a 35 percent reduction, between 2009 and 2014, the latest year for which there is data. And there are high levels of attrition, with nearly 8 percent of the teaching workforce leaving every year, the majority before retirement age.
In California, for example, only three subjects had teaching shortages in the 1990-91 and 1991-92 school years: bilingual education (K-12), life science (grades 7-12) and physical science (grades 7-12). For 2016-17 and the new school year, statewide shortages were reported in English, drama, humanities, history, social science, math, computer education, physical education, health, dance, science, special education and self-contained class.
In Virginia, these subjects had teaching shortages in 1990-91 and 1991-92: early childhood education, earth and space science (grades 9-12), high school foreign languages, and special education. For 2015-16 and the new school year, these subjects have reported shortages: career and technical education, elementary education, secondary English, foreign languages in all grades, health and physical education in all grades, high school, math (grades 6-12, including Algebra 1), middle school education, and special education.
You can see the full listings of each state, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories below or here.
States have employed different strategies to try to fill the gaps, some more drastic than others. In Oklahoma, Utah and Arizona, teachers can be hired without formal training. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed a new law a few months ago allowing people who have never been trained as teachers to go into schools and teach, as long as they have a bachelor’s degree or five years of experience in fields “relevant” to the subject.
In Arizona’s Vail Unified School District near Tucson, Education Week reported, parents are being hired as teachers to help stem a years-long shortage. It said 17 of 24 noncertified new teachers in grades K-8 are parents, and more than a dozen parents teach in high schools, too. It quoted Superintendent Calvin Baker as saying, “I think that a number of them were motivated by the need to stand in the gap, so to speak.”
Finding substitutes is taxing some districts, too. For example, NBC4 in Washington found that schools in the region are suffering an “acute shortage of substitute teachers,” with full-time teachers “sacrificing planning periods, grading sessions and staff meetings to cover vacant classes of colleagues.” Administrators are pitching in, too, the report said.
Freddie Cross, senior statistician at the Education Department, said in an email that teacher shortage data has been collected since 1990-91 — but it is still collected by paper and pencil and sent through the mail, making comparisons difficult. Cross said he is having all of the information compiled into a database so states can enter it electronically, analyses can be conducted, trends can be spotted, and terminology can be standardized. The work on this should be completed this fall.
The Learning Policy Institute report found five key factors that influence whether a teacher decides to enter, remain in or leave the profession: salaries and other compensation; preparation and costs to entry; hiring and personnel management; induction and support for new teachers; and working conditions, including school leadership, professional collaboration and shared decision-making, accountability systems, and resources for teaching and learning.
Here you can look at a map and see how these play out in every state:
And here is the Education Department’s teacher shortage list for 2017-18: