Where have the teachers gone? How are we addressing the looming teacher shortage?

WASHINGTON– The American Federation of Teachers has convened a new national task force to address widespread shortages of educators and support staff threatening the future of public schools and education.

the AFT Task Force on Teacher and School Staff Shortages will examine the causes and propose solutions for districts facing extreme shortages putting immense pressure on educators and families that could disrupt recovery from the pandemic. Adding to the chaos, schools were rocked for months by poisoned national political debates that turned them into cultural battlegrounds.

Two years of pandemic have accelerated the flight of the teaching profession. Teaching was a respected profession in the communities with some shortages in very poor schools and in some certification areas; Ten years ago, we started to see fewer and fewer students in college preparation programs.

Let’s take a longer view:

The first wave of reform, I’m sorry, I’m a history teacher, that was the Pendleton Law (1883) who created the federal public service.

Federal, state and local employees were selected through a spoils system, political party affiliation, in response to the assassination of President Arthur by a disappointed candidate, a civil service reform bill was adopted.

The legislation aimed to guarantee the rights of all citizens to compete for federal jobs without preferential treatment based on politics, race, religion or origin.

The reform movement moved from Washington to the states and the boroughs “consolidated” to create New York City. As a member of Great consolidation school systems were combined and a local civil service law created the examination board. Teacher and supervisor candidates took an exam and were placed on a ranking list and appointed to schools.

In the 1960s, the examination board was attacked, the examination system had a “disparate impact” on candidates of color and the the federal courts supported the appellants final examinations for school principals. .

The attacks on the exam board continued, the process took years, and thousands of teachers worked as substitutes while waiting for the board’s actions. In 1990, the state legislature dissolved the Board of Examiners.

As the exam system came to an end, the school system continued to struggle to recruit and fire teachers, and several thousand teachers languished as replacements. Schools located in very poor neighborhoods, “hard to staff” schools, have seen continuous turnover of staff, with teachers leaving and teachers moving to other higher socio-economic schools.

Obama / Duncan Race to the top, a competitive $ 4.3 billion grant program, required teacher accountability systems linking student performance to teacher grades, as well as the adoption of common core standards in state tests required by the federal government for grades 3-8.

The unintended impact: Teacher preparation programs have started to see fewer enrollments.

A guide for school districts, published before the pandemic (2019) highlights and suggests avenues to address teacher shortages, Who will teach children: Recruit, retain and renew highly effective educators, Franklin Schargel (Read the review here)

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), again, ahead of the pandemic, took a deep dive in highlighting retention and attraction of teachers.

More and more teachers are leaving and teacher preparation programs have reduced enrollments. EPI has produced a series of articles in six parts Read here.

What we can do about it: Address working conditions and other factors that cause teachers to quit and deter people from entering the profession, making it more difficult for school districts to retain and attract highly qualified teachers: low salary, difficult school environment and poor support for professional development and recognition. In addition to addressing these factors for all schools, we need to provide additional support and funding for very poor schools, where teacher shortages are even more of a problem.

* One of the factors behind recruitment difficulties in low- and high-poverty schools is the high proportion of public school teachers leaving their posts: 13.8% either left their school or left teaching altogether in a given year, based on the most recent data.

* Another factor is the decrease in the number of applicants to fill vacant positions: from the 2008-2009 school year to the 2015-2016 school year, the annual number of teaching diplomas issued decreased by 15.4% , and the annual number of people who completed a teacher preparation program fell by 27.4%

* Schools also have a harder time retaining graduate teachers, as evidenced by the small but growing share of all new hires and teachers in their first year of teaching and the substantial shares of resigning teachers who are certified and experienced . It is even more difficult for schools in situations of high poverty to retain qualified teachers.

Low wages are another key issue: read the section on relative wages here

Teachers also face difficult working conditions Read here

The EPI report ends with a set of general principles,

General principles for tackling the problem of teacher shortage

  • Understand that the teacher shortage is caused by multiple factors and therefore can only be tackled with a comprehensive set of long-term solutions.
  • Understand that the complexity of the challenge requires the coordinated efforts of multiple stakeholders.
  • Increase public investment in education.
  • Treat teachers like professionals and teaching like a profession.

Specific proposals in the political agenda to address the teacher shortage

  • Increase teachers’ salaries attract new teachers and keep teachers in their schools and in the profession.
  • Raise the voice of teachers and nurture stronger learning communities to increase teachers’ influence and sense of belonging.
  • Lower barriers to teaching that affect teachers’ ability to do their jobs and their morale.
  • Design professional materials that reinforce the sense of purpose, career development and effectiveness of teachers.

The PEV report (2019) precedes the last two years of the pandemic.

In May 2021 Education week published the results of interviews with hundreds of teachers across the country (Read here). More and more teachers are considering leaving, the stress is unbearable, they love their students and are affected by politically motivated attacks on teachers.

New York City responded to the teacher shortage problem twenty years ago. The Teaching Fellows program is an alternative certification path created to attract second career individuals. CUNY Colleges offer an accelerated certification program in areas of shortage. (Read history and program details here). 20% of new teachers this year are graduates of the Teaching Fellows program.

New York City is also funding a Men Teach program aimed at attracting men of color to teaching. Applicants are recruited from first-year and second-year students at four-year CUNY colleges. (Read here)

Unfortunately, New York State does not fund comparable programs.

AFT’s national task force on teacher and school staff shortages will look at the whole country, as you might expect, the problem of “shortages” varies widely. States are in the process of determining how to allocate federal dollars and how to attract and retain teachers and other essential school personnel would be an excellent use of federal dollars.


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