Sunday, July 26, 2015

Teacher "Shortage" Coast to Coast

Talk of teacher shortages has been popping up on a state-to-state basis, so I thought I'd engage in a rare act of actual data collection. I'm working from two basic sources here: 1) a report from USED that actually goes back to 1991, but we'll just focus on the present and 2) my research assistant, Dr. Google, with which I'll check for "OMGZ! We haz got no teechurz!" stories for each state. Let's see how we're all doing, shall we?


The USED shows Alabama hurting in many instructional areas, and they've been talking about a teacher staffing crisis almost a decade ago. They've recently blamed a substitute shortage on Obamacare, because reasons. Since the Great Teacher Crisis of 2007, they've been trying to offer incentives like bonuses for working in districts or subject areas that are suffering a shortage. Alabama is not known for its great teaching conditions or spending on education, but nobody is hollering about a teacher shortage at the moment.


One of the least shortagey states on the USED's list. Alaska has also been plagued by periodic bouts of teacher shortage, and that seems linked mostly to the general issue of enticing teachers to work in Extremely Rural Areas. Average salaries push $70K, but if you know Alaska, you know living there is not exactly cheap. However, there seems to be no major panic at the moment.


USED says that Arizona is short everywhere in everything, and that's reflected in media reports throwing the word "crisis" around as recently as yesterday. Arizona is dead-last in per pupil spending and fighting to get to the bottom on teacher pay, but the charter operators rate them highly. Things are so bad that a study on recruitment and retention offered suggestions along the lines of "treat teachers with respect," which is apparently a new idea for the reform-hungry privateers who have been running the state. A new study on the shortage is expected next week; I don't figure it's going to say, "Yeah, everything's okay now."


Arkansas has had teacher recruitment problems long enough to have been growing some solutions of their own. Meet the Arkansas Teacher Corps (Motto: why pay Teach for America when you can just grow your own). Arkansas is a leading laboratory in ways to get anybody off the street and into a classroom. The state is also busy stripping districts of local control; perhaps that will help.


Yeah, everyone is freaking out in sunny CA. Enrollment in teacher programs has been cut in half, and things are bad enough that even reformy outlets like EdSource are sounding the alarm (and calling for any warm available bodies to be slapped in classrooms). Not only that, but California's teaching force, while shrinking, is also turning more white even as the student population turns less white. California, ever the nation's leader, is leading with an impressive teacher shortage.


Colorado districts have tried a little, "Hey, it's the whole country" to blunt finger-pointing as they contemplate their shortages. And they are another state to report a shortage in substitutes, including districts like Jefferson County, a district also in the news for hoohaw over it's hostile takeover by outsider-backed reformsters.


Connecticut has had shortages in the past, but in recent years they may have been one of the states to stay ahead of the shortage by simply cutting teaching jobs like crazy. CT also suffers from some selective shortages, like a lack of teachers qualified to keep up with their growing English Language Learner population. Their reformy governor favors just giving certificates to any warm body.


Delaware has been feeling the pinch for a few years, and has a robustly advertised alternative certification path. Like many states, they have some specific areas that are extra-thin. Unlike many states, they do a regular study of How Things Are Going with recruitment and retention. The 2013 report indicated that shortages were a result of lack of qualified candidates in public school, and crappy low salaries in charter schools.


You know what? They make such consistently terrible hiring choices, I'm not going to bother.


Two years ago Florida was scrambling to deal with "critical shortages" in seven areas, including every core subject but history. Florida dug up a fun data point. The ACT asks seniors what career they want to pursue. 81% of FL seniors took the test; 3% of those said they planned to teach. Meanwhile, districts are sending administrators to New York State on recruitment junkets, and the University of Southern Florida is using grant money to give scholarships to future (they hope) science teachers.


Georgia is in trouble. Next year they expect to hire 14,000 teachers, but Georgia colleges expect to graduate 3,500 ed majors. The state is talking about offering 10% bonuses for good teachers to stay at low-performing schools (this is both a bizarre perverse incentive and a Catch-22-- how does a teacher at a low-performing school maintain a high rating). Ha! Sorry, my mistake. That was Georgia's plan fifteen years ago!! How's that working? Well, Georgia, you will recall, is home to the Atlanta school system (motto: we'll send you to jail if you cheat and fire you if you don't). Georgia is also another state that stays ahead of the shortage by slashing job.


Surely not Hawai'i. It's beautiful and tropical and-- oops, ranked the fifth worst state for teachers. 41st in commute time! 46th in public school spending per pupil! And 51st in both starting and median salaries! Which is extra brutal because absolutely everything in Hawai'i is more expensive than it is anywhere else on the planet. The state also has its own extra set of issues that come with indigenous people in a state that left colony-like status behind less than two generations ago. Put it all together, and Hawai'i is a state that always has a teacher shortage.


This spring, 55 out of 65 Idaho districts said they could not fill all their positions with qualified teachers. In 2007-08, 1,184 teacher certificates were issues; in 2013-14, the number was 866. Idaho leaders have not so much treated this as a problem that needs to be solved as an opportunity to get their TFA on. But they did balance that by trying to make it harder to become an actual teacher. Doesn't seem to be helping, yet. Their USED "needs" list is huge.


Illinois has been dealing with teacher shortages off and on for at least fifteen years (says Dr. Google). They are another state noting the substitute shortage. Illinois only claims a shortage in certain subject areas, but some observers think there's a retention issue. Chicago leads the state with creative ways to beat teachers down, but it also leads in feisty unions that will fight back. But there are signs that the pipeline is drying up. 


Indiana is wracked with concern over an oncoming teacher shortage. The state has been a reformster playground, rolling back teacher support and attacking teacher pensions, so some sources are reporting a jump in teacher retirement. But the supply end of the pipeline is even more damaged-- the state Department of Education reports a drop in issued teacher licenses from 7,500 in 2007-08 down to 934 in 2013-14. While trouble filling openings is still spotty, the future does not look good.


Iowa has a well-promoted loan forgiveness program for areas designated by the state as shortage areas, taking care of up to 20% of a teacher's outstanding balance. You can also color me surprised that Iowa is one of few states to so clearly track where they're short (the usual suspects-- math, science, ELL). The Iowa Business Council backs much of this, but nobody seems to be suggesting that more TFA and charter schools would help.


Kansas is in big trouble. In 2014, the GOP used a 4 AM session to strip teachers of job protections. The state has slashed spending and capped per-pupil spending so that local districts have hands tied. And teacher pay is lousy. How bad is it?  A Missouri district has recruitment billboards on Kansas. Right now Kansas is still looking at about 500 teacher openings, more than double the usual. And that includes elementary positions, which are not a shortage anywhere (except states that have made their teachers miserable ).


Kentucky has a rural teacher issue, and a special education teacher issue. They have some scholarship programs in place for teachers. USED find them short in the usual STEM areas.


New Orleans is arguably Patient Zero for the technique of driving teachers out so that you can declare a shortage and start shipping in boatloads of TFA-style temps. Retirement numbers in LA have been climbing for years while teacher program enrollment numbers decline and tales keep emerging of teachers being driven out. It's hard to know how much of a teacher shortage LA would have if the state hadn't been working to manufacture one.


Other than suffering under a loony-tunes eternally pissed off governor, Maine does not appear to be feeling any special pinch.


In 2013, Calvert Institute studied Maryland's consistent teacher shortage issues and determined that their certification process was too burdensome, and the state should go heavier on alternative certification. The state has been combating large teacher shortages for quite a while, to little apparent effect, but they've cranked up alt programs and TFA presence. It could be that people just don't like Maryland, or it could be that Baltimore is one of the worst places to work in the world.


Fifteen years ago, when the last big teacher shortage hit, Massachusetts offered $20,000 signing bonuses. Since then, they've decided that Teach for America might be cheaper.


Numbers for teacher prep programs were down 38% as of 2013. In 2014 the state superintendent was pushing for any alternative to trying to improve that pipeline. At the same time they've tried to open alternative doors to any warm bodies, Michigan has made the traditional pathway tougher. Gee, I wonder how that will work out.


Minnesota has it all. They are short on subs. Their rural areas have trouble recruiting. And the state as a whole has a shortage. The administration argues that's a good reason to loosen up requirements, which seems to include tying VAM to layoffs (despite the fact that Minnesota has been doing little laying off). Meanwhile, the "community expert" program lets anyone with a job become a teacher.


The USED shows Mississippi with one of the historically lowest levels of teacher shortages. That seems...unlikely. The state lists 48 school districts with critical shortages that qualify for state assistance. There was a lot of fuss about the teacher shortage in 2013, but that seems to have been aimed at installing an extremely loose alternative certification path. 


We last saw Missouri trying to poach teachers from Kansas. Missouri is another of the few states that has been studying and addressing the teacher shortage at the state level. The report they generate is a pretty data-rich piece of work, including data on first year hires, attrition, and non-white teachers. Attrition has been high, but consistent. Ditto hiring rate. Missouri's shortage is acute enough that at least one group has sprung up to make a living recruiting non-teachers to teach. Missouri voters rejected an effort to strip tenure, but legislators have just kept trying to get rid of it anyway. Because when you don't have enough teachers, being able to fire the ones you have is important.

Last summer, Montana was looking at over 1,000 vacancies, with particularly bad shortages at the seven reservations. Montana has the rural problem plus the lousy pay problem. Can you support a family for less than $30K a year, particularly in an area where your spouse may not be able to find work? Many teachers say, "No, thank you."


One more state with the substitute and rural problems. Nebraska schools are short in many areas by their own count, and the state has instituted the Attracting Excellence to Teaching program to make becoming a teacher more affordable. Some outfits, like the Platte Institute, have advocated for alternative certificates and an end to tenure, but without success. Nobody is calling teacher supply a crisis in Nebraska.


Clark County (which includes Las Vegas) is the fifth largest district in the country. If they hired all 1,300 expected teacher grads this year, they would still be about 1,300 teacher short. Even programs to fast-track former cocktail waitresses into the classroom can't keep up. The USED list is huge. And Las Vegas is another of those places where a teacher salary can barely-if-at-all provide enough support to live there. Meanwhile, Nevada has launched a lamebrained vouchers-for-all program; proponents say the program will lead to many more fine schools opening, but how exactly do you build more capacity when you can't staff the capacity that you have? When it comes to dealing with teacher shortages by using reformy foolishness, Nevada is a state to watch.


New Hampshire talks about a "critical" shortage in STEM teachers, and the USED list is long for such a tiny state. The Granite State offers a wide variety of alternative paths, including one for anyone with a Bachelors degree who can get a school to hire and train her.


New Jersey has been struggling to fill math and science positions for a few years. Well in the grip of reformsteritis, they have also pursued making it harder to enter teaching through traditional paths, even as the many state-operated districts roll out the red carpet for Teach for America. Meanwhile, the USED list shows shortages all across the state.


In 2013, district across the state were short new teachers and losing old ones. In the fall of 2014, Albuquerque schools were still 200 teachers short. By 2015, the state and business were teaming up to float such ideas as a fast-track program to certify STEM teachers. The legislature has studied the problem and determined that NM should pay more and hire better.


New York is one of those states that has made entry to the teaching profession a costly, difficult nightmare, but then once you're teaching, you can face Cuomo's new monstrosity of a teacher eval system. Despite all that, New York state is not talking about any teacher supply crisis.


Oh. North Carolina. Has any state worked so hard over the past few years to destroy teaching as a sustainable career? Stagnant wages, destroyed job protections, and low spending on schools. It's no surprise that the state expects to need over 10,000 teachers, but only has 4,300 in the pipeline. Radicals have suggested that actually raising teacher pay might make the field more attract, but you know that's just crazy talk.


North Dakota is in trouble and concerned enough to launch a Recruitment and Retention Task Force. ND has known they were in trouble for a few years, and has climbed up from 49th to 36th in national average salary rankings, but Minnesota still kicks their butt. The state also has the rural problem, with isolated districts near the Canadian border getting zero applications for some jobs. It's not going to get better; projections call for about a third of the 10,000 person teaching force to retire over the next ten years, but ed schools are producing fewer than 400 new licensees a year. They have a loan forgiveness program, but their alternative certificate path does not open the door to just anybody.


Ohio's DOE still instructs districts to handle hiring as if they were awash in a sea of high quality applicants, and news articles talk about how the market is good for job-seeking teachers, but few complaints are out there about a shortage. There may be a retirement bump coming because of upcoming pension changes, but for the time being, Ohio is the happy land of No Teacher Shortage.


OK is feeling the shortage, hard. The state is looking for 1,000 teachers, with a ton of veterans retiring-- this as the end of a year in which many positions never were filled. In two years, emergency certification has risen from 97 to 499. OK teachers start at about $31,600, one of the lowest salaries in the country-- and OK teachers haven't had a raise in eight years. The state has moved to offer bonuses for retention or recruitment, as well as making it easier for out-of-state certification to be used in OK.


Facing a shortage of certified teachers. Oregon does not do the alternative certificate route; instead, they will essentially let you start teaching before you've completely finished your teacher training program.


We have avoided a teacher shortage pretty simply. By deploying crushing financial pressures on districts, we have been cutting 4,000 to 5,000 jobs a year. We have crowded classrooms, and the worst rich vs. poor funding gap in the country. But no teacher shortage. Nosirree.


Well, if there's a Rhode Island teacher shortage, nobody is talking about it on line. Even so, the USED lists RI as short in most areas, including elementary ed, which is rare indeed.


Many years ago, I distance-dated a teacher in SC who went to work for the state's recruitment program, a forward-thinking program that started getting students interested in teaching while they were still in high school. But today, shortages in rural and urban schools remain a problem. The state is bringing in alternative certificate pros to help. But although they beat out North Carolina, South Carolina still landed 45th on the list of worst states for teachers.


Last year, 31 districts in South Dakota started the year with unfilled positions. The teacher shortage was discussed in tones of deep concern last summer in the capitol. But folks can spot the most notable issue-- South Dakota is 51st in the nation for teacher pay. Fixing that would require some sort of tax, and that seems to be a conversation-killer. Or you could, as the state does, let the schools hire warm body as long as that body embarks on a path to get credentials. In the meantime, SD schools feature a mix of unqualified teachers and empty positions.


What about the home of reformster miracles? They have the substitute problem, but it turns out they have a governor who's at least willing to pay lip service to keeping teacher pay competitive. Of course, they also have an Achievement School District, a mechanism for turning public schools into revenue-generating charters. TN has many education issues, but nobody is hollering about a teacher shortage just yet.


Texas has two parts of the teacher shortage problem-- hard to find enough applicants, and a tremendous turnover rate among those they hire. But it has only been a year since legislators noticed that maybe this is a subject in need of discussion. Texas also has a program that puts alternative certificatees straight into the classroom, which means those who realize they've made a mistake can walk straight out again. So Texas is short-handed and without a real plan.


Another state short on subs. Utah is short on the usual big three -- math, science, special ed-- and was willing to consider the unusual step of paying more for those fields. Legislators have also discussed Vergarafying the state and making it harder for teachers to achieve job security; unsurprisingly, some folks suggested that such a move would make it even harder to recruit teachers.


Vermont publishes an annual list of shortage areas. Surprisingly, the list currently shows a need for math and English, but not science. Nobody is complaining about a big teacher shortage.


Virginia lists most of the usual areas as having shortages, but there are no articles talking about any teacher shortage crisis.


Washington could face a teacher crunch for unusual reasons-- the voters asked for reduced class sizes for K-12 and full-day kindergarten. That would depend on fully funding the school system, which is, as always, a problem-- fully funding right-sized classes beyond that K-3 has been denied by the legislature. And the sub pool has been shrinking for years. Washington teachers have also gone without a cost-of-living increase since 2008. So a shortage could be on the way, for any of several reasons.


West Virginia has just passed a law to fix their teacher shortage-- more TFA and alternative certificates. WV has reportedly 700 unfilled teaching spots, with the largest number of teachers working outside their area. The legislator leading this initiative is just one more arguing that the best way to fill spots that might go to unqualified teachers is by hiring more unqualified teachers, because, reasons. Meanwhile, in one rural area, a guy teaches biology because (and I am not making this up) because his wife's a nurse.


Gee, why wouldn't an 18-year-old who has spent high school watching teachers get vilified and beaten down and stripped of job protections and union powers and pay-- why wouldn't that young person want to go into teaching? Well, apparently she doesn't. Scott Walker is deeply committed to sweeping away public schools and replacing them with low-cost, high-profit charters, so teachers got to go. Here's a handy list of Wisconsin teaching highlights. Wisconsin is the best example of one other way the teacher shortage plays out-- you can't have a teacher shortage if your ideal number of trained, professional teachers is zero.


Wyoming put The Teacher Shortage Loan Repayment Program in place for teachers who would stay in Wyoming after graduation; they did it a decade ago. The teacher pay is good, taxes are nearly non-existent, and if you like the kind of pretty that Wyoming has, nobody does it better. Since their neighbors are states like South Dakota, they are well-positioned to recruit, though they do have some select shortage in some certification areas. (Also, I left them out of the first published version of this piece. Sorry about that, Wyoming)


I did learn some new odds and ends. I had not realized the extent of the substitute shortage. I also didn't realize that agricultural teaching was in trouble because of shortages of qualified teachers in that field.

Teacher programs really are slowing down, though ideas about how to address that are... well, spread over a wide area. The Center for American Progress thinks we should make teacher school harder and put more obstacles in the way because that will make more students enroll? Surprisingly few commentators point out the obvious-- that teaching has been beaten down for a generation.

Not all shortages are created equal. The big three are math, science and special ed, but elementary teachers are being produced in more-than-sufficient numbers.

But mostly we need a new word, because we're not really talking about a shortage of teachers-- we're talking about a lack of incentives and an excess of disincentives to go into teaching. Put another way-- there is no state among the fifty that is paying top dollar, providing great working conditions, and treating its teachers like professionals that is struggling with a teacher shortage. Instead, states offer low pay, poor work conditions, no job security, no autonomy, and no power over your own workplace and voila!!-- teacher "shortage."

And in the interests of space, I didn't even get into Right To Work states where teachers can't bargain and just have to trust the tender mercies of the state.

Look, even convenience stores get it. When my local place can't get good people to work for minimum wage, they offer more than minimum wage. States who set a standard of Barely Better Than North Carolina or South Dakota will always have a "shortage."

And yes-- many of these states aren't manufacturing a shortage so much as they're trying to engineer a new definition of what a teacher is. "Look! If we define 'teacher' as a sentient adult willing to stand in a classroom, there's no shortage at all!!"

Still, whatever we call it, something is going on across almost all fifty states, not just the few that have made big news with their particular staffing issues. Some states have adopted a direct, thoughtful approach to the issues. Most have not. That's the picture coast to coast. Incidentally-- if you know something I missed in your state, don't hesitate to shoot me a note or speak up in the comments.

And because this is already too long, you can find my further thoughts here.


  1. I blogged about this last week, though on a much smaller scale focusing on the state of Indiana where I live...and not quite so entertaining :)

    Indiana's Governor Pence, when making any announcements about education, or visiting any educational institution, always makes a point to make the announcements or do the visiting at a parochial school. He, and the Republican dominated legislature, have made things miserable for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI), Glenda Ritz, who had the temerity to defeat Tony Bennett in the last election. The legislature has promised to make the SPI's job appointed so Ritz is running for governor instead.

    The legislature changed the rules for the State Board of Education (SBOE) because the 10 members -- other than the SPI -- were all appointed by Governors Pence and Daniels. Thus, the "reformist" attacks against public education, public schools and the Superintendent came from three places...the governor's office, the legislature and the SBOE. The new rules for the SBOE passed by the legislature allows the SBOE to choose their own chair, as well as a "vice-chair." Under the previous law the SPI, the only elected member of the SBOE, was the automatic chair. The newly elected vice-chair just happens to be the daughter of a legislator...hmmm...

    Reduced collective bargaining, no more tenure, VAM based evaluations, extra money for charters, one of the nation's largest voucher programs...the Hoosier State has it all.

  2. The DC prompt was beautifully played, sir

  3. The DC prompt was beautifully played, sir

  4. The DC prompt was beautifully played, sir

    1. Wow...sorry that showed up three times...awkward

  5. As a fellow Hoosier (with 31 years experience in teh classroom), Stu's comments above are exactly right.

    Love your blog, and I often cross-reference Diane Ravitch's comments with yours.

    Didja forget Wyoming?

  6. I don't know where you received your information from about California, but it is still experiencing teacher layoffs and in most districts, in order to be hired, you need to already have your credential cleared, which puts a burden on newly credentialed teachers.

  7. The only real shortage in Oregon is for substitutes. Still can't make the cut for sped jobs here despite being experienced. 45 applicants for 3 sped teaching jobs isn't a shortage.

  8. Subs are hard to come by in Nashville, TN too. Especially Middle School. Nobody wants to sub in middle school because there is no discipline. Kids can do anything.

  9. Thanks for writing this, I am thinking about moving back to the mainland from Guam, and started doing the teacher shortage Google quest myself, but you saved me a bunch of time.

  10. Mr. Miller,
    As an ex-mainland teacher, I'd highly advise you rethink moving from Guam back to the mainland. If you have a classroom to teach in and small class sizes with an administration that backs you up, you are far ahead of most teachers in the 50 state area.

  11. Comment from Iowa here. Although he professes differently ("My daughter is a teacher.") our governor is no friend of education. Local control over starting dates has been taken over by the state to make sure that, and I kid you not, schools don't start before the state fair is over. Another consideration for the mandate was because an appointed member of the DOE board has a resort in NW Iowa and loses two weeks of income if school starts before Labor Day. Governor Branstad has vetoed part of the education money that undid the legislature's compromise and is also moving toward micromanaging where the state money could be spent; teachers' salaries have not been mentioned.
    Those are the negatives. On the other hand, student test scores are not part of the salary formula or the teacher evaluations. Our pension fund is in good condition and most schools have decent benefit packages. Teachers are certified. We have a procedure for arbitration that is rarely needed and most everyday Iowans back their schools and their teachers. I have taught math and some physics for over twenty years all over this state and would not consider moving to any other to teach. For now.

  12. I taught in Colombia for five years, moved to NJ to teach at a charter and close the achievement gap, then was back in Colombia in six months. I worked with amazing people in NJ, from the director down they were all great, but they were and are working in an extremely f**** up system.

  13. As a certified elementary teacher with a Master's degree in Illinois, I have to laugh at claims of a teacher shortage here. I have not been able to get a job despite excellent credentials because, as one principal told me, I am "too expensive". A secretary to another principal told me that a confidential email was sent out by the superintendent not to even consider candidates with a Masters. When I have offered to work at a Bachelor's pay rate, I was told the union would never allow it. As a result, I have worked as a sub for $85/day with no benefits for the past ten years. It is clear why there is a sub shortage, since my pay rate has not risen in all that time. I love teaching children, and I am good at it. I wish I could find somewhere to teach that actually values teachers who are educated!

  14. I have been trying to get a teaching position here in IL for six years but have been overlooked because, as one principal told me, I am "too expensive" with a Masters degree. Something is fundamentally wrong when highly qualified and experienced teachers are passed over because they have too much education!