The teacher shortage crisis is here

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As students headed back to school this year in and around Tampa, Florida, thousands of teacher positions had yet to be filled. It followed a year in which tens of thousands of teachers were hired on emergency or temporary credentials to help fill empty slots around the country – 900 of them in Oklahoma alone. And in Arizona, which has one of the highest teacher turnover rates in the country, school districts routinely report having unfilled teaching positions three months into the school year.

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The teacher shortage crisis is here, at least according to a new report from the Learning Policy Institute, and it stands to get worse.

"We are experiencing what appears to be the first major shortage since the 1990s," said Linda Darling-Hammond, professor at Stanford University and president and CEO of the institute, a nonpartisan education organization launched last year. "And teaching is, in some respects, as an occupation, at its lowest point in 20 years."

RELATED: Top school districts in the nation:

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25 best school districts in America

25. Township High School District No. 113 — Highland Park, IL

Total schools: 2

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A

Student culture & diversity: B-

Extracurriculars at Deerfield High School are abundant, one commenter said. "We have everything from book club, anime club, Athletics, gima, model UN, movie club, environmental club, choraliers, plays/musicals, truly you name it."

One senior at Highland Park High School said every teacher "wants the students to succeed" and they "structure their classes in ways that help their students learn and retain the material in an easy way."

24. Aspen School District — Aspen Township, CO

Total schools: 5

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A+

Student culture & diversity: B

"The student-teacher dynamic is incredible. Most teachers are familiar enough with their students to respond to their first names, rather than their surnames," one Aspen High School junior commented. "They also offer help during office hours with understanding, and tend to be sympathetic towards scheduling issues involving IB classes and the even distribution of work. The student body is generally accepting of sexual orientation, racial, and socioeconomic differences."

23. Hinsdale Township High School District No. 86 — Downers Grove Township, IL

Total schools: 2

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A+

Student culture & diversity: A-

One senior at Hinsdale Central High School commented that "there is a constant competitive atmosphere [but it] pushes kids to do better since all their peers are trying to do the same. The majority of the students are working towards a mutual goal, that is going to a good college."

Commenters also said that safety at the high school is important. "The nurse is always available, the school psychiatrists are great, and social workers are decent. I never felt threatened there," said one user.

22. Lower Merion School District — Lower Merion Township, PA

Total schools: 10

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A+

Student culture & diversity: B-

"One thing I like about the school is that they encourage inclusion," said a Harriton Senior High School student. "In all activities and school events the kids are encouraged to interact with peers that they normally would not. This leads to cohesiveness in the community."

21. Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High School District — Lexington Hills Township, CA

Total schools: 2

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A-

Student culture & diversity: B+

"The teachers at Saratoga High really care about their students. They want to make sure that they excel and really learn something in their class," said one senior.

Los Gatos High School, the only other school in the district, has great teachers as well, according to one parent: "The principal and teachers/staff truly care about the students."

20. Radnor Township School District — Radnor Township, PA

Total schools: 5

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A+

Student culture & diversity: B

One parent praised Radnor Township School District: "My two kids have had superior teachers in almost every grade [at Radnor Senior High School]. We moved to Radnor for the school system, and we're glad we did."

"The students, teachers, and faculty are wonderful. The food and classes are superb. The spirit, especially, is so positive and optimistic," commented a Radnor Senior High School sophomore.

19. SAU 70 — Hanover Town, NH

Total schools: 2

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A

Student culture & diversity: B-

"There are many opportunities for us to participate in all sorts of clubs [at Hanover High School]. The exciting part is if a club doesn't exist, you're encouraged to create it," one senior said.

Regarding school administration, one senior wrote that "Our school is run to be a democratic student government where students and adults work together to develop policies and procedures that run the school. Students have as much say as adults on most topics."

18. San Marino Unified School District — San Marino, CA

Total schools: 4

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A-

Student culture & diversity: B+

One San Marino High School alum said that although the "competition level was high," they felt their teachers and classes "have definitely prepared me well for college."

A junior commented that "Even though the school is very competitive, the majority of people at my school are supportive of one another. We're one big family."

17. Community High School District No. 128 — Libertyville Township, IL

Total schools: 2

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A+

Student culture & diversity: B

"Generally, the teachers are very engaging and helpful," wrote one Vernon Hills High School junior. "[But] there is a strong emphasis on the importance of college preparation, which can be overwhelming at times."

The teachers at Libertyville High School are also top-notch. "They really care about you and your education and take it very seriously," one senior commented.

16. New Canaan School District — New Canaan Town, CT

Total schools: 5

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A+

Student culture & diversity: C+

"Although there's definitely a few exceptions, the teachers at the school are generally very approachable and keep the students well engaged," said one New Canaan High School senior. "They mostly make themselves available outside of class for any questions or problems a student may have. A majority of the teachers seem to genuinely care about the students in their classes."

15. Lexington Public Schools — Lexington, MA

Total schools: 9

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A-

Student culture & diversity: B+

Safety in this school district, particularly at Lexington High School is commended by students. "The school provides us with security officers, a very dedicated nurses office, and a staff that provides a safe place to share concerns regarding person safety and the safety of the school as a whole," said a senior.

"I have never felt unsafe at this school. This school is very good about keeping students and parents informed electronically through text and email blasts," wrote another user.

14. Millburn Township Schools — Millburn Township, NJ

Total schools: 7

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A-

Student culture & diversity: B-

One user commented that the teaching staff at Millburn Senior High School is exceptional, "All teachers have masters degrees, and many have doctorates. The math and science teachers are outstanding — knowledgeable and dedicated. The writing instruction is phenomenal."

Another explained that despite the challenging curriculum and rigorous work load, "the teachers are amazing and more than willing to go the extra mile to help you learn."

13. Bloomfield Hills Schools — Bloomfield Charter Township, MI

Total schools: 12

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A-

Student culture & diversity: A

Many commenters praised the teachers in this school district. "The teachers are awesome, they are always really nice, and willing to help. I've had multiple teachers offer to stay after school to help the class multiple times!" said one Bloomfield Hills High School senior.

A senior at International Academy wrote, "Overall the teaching staff is fantastic. They are very involved and helpful. If students ask in advance they make themselves available."

12. Westport School District — Westport, CT

Total schools: 9

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A+

Student culture & diversity: C+

"There is no perfect school with a set of teachers who are all very accomplished, caring and hardworking, but this school comes pretty close," said one Staples High School Senior. "There are a good number of great teachers at this school who are very knowledgeable, respectful of students and truly caring about learning and making the class a good and beneficial experience."

11. Palo Alto Unified School District — Palo Alto, CA

Total schools: 19

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A-

Student culture & diversity: A

"The activities that are run by the students are a great stress reliever," said a senior at Henry M. Gunn High School. "The school itself is great, I come to school expecting to have a good day."

One student praised the school's events, "the most memorable of which must have to do with NiOS week (Not in Our Schools week), a week-long occurrence during which the community is brought together to celebrate all the differences within our school and turn our backs on bullying."

10. Glenbrook High Schools District No. 225 — Northfield Township, IL

Total schools: 4

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A+

Student culture & diversity: A-

"The teachers are all exemplary. Aside from a few exceptions, all of them are phenomenal. They are always willing to help students," reported one Glenbrook North High School senior.

"There is something for everyone at Glenbrook South. There are top quality music, art, theater and sports departments. There are hundreds of clubs and they make more clubs by student request," said another.

9. Indian Hill Exempted Village School District — The Village of Indian Hill, OH

Total schools: 4

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A+

Student culture & diversity: B-

"There are so many different activities that are put together by the students. From mock trial to the year book club, students have so many different opportunities to become part of a club, sport, or after school activity," one Indian Hill High School senior reported.

Another senior added: "The building is in amazing shape. The technology is all up to date, and the guidance counselors are very friendly and helpful."

8. Rye City School District — Rye, NY

Total schools: 5

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A+

Student culture & diversity: B-

One Rye High School senior called the school "very engaging" and said "it provides students a variety of different ways to learn. Different topics with educated teachers from all over who know their topics very well. New curriculum is always coming out."


(amoriumur/Flickr)

7. North Allegheny School District — McCandless Township, PA

Total schools: 12

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A

Student culture & diversity: B

"North Allegheny [Senior High School] designs students to be the best that they can be no matter what they do after high school. It opens up the mature adult inside and makes students work for what they want," said one student.

"North Allegheny has a huge variety of activities and clubs that fulfill all interests from origami club to ping pong club," commented one senior. "The only issue is there are too many to choose from," said another.

6. Highland Park Independent School District (Dallas) — Northeast Dallas Township, TX

Total schools: 9

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A

Student culture & diversity: B-

"Highland Park [High School] excels in all sports and is always in the running for the Lone Star Cup," one student commented. A sophomore agreed, "...the school spirit at HPHS is fantastic. We have fun traditions, pep rallies almost every week, and 'Scotsmen' who do skits at the pep rallies..."

5. Princeton Public Schools — Princeton, NJ

Total schools: 6

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A

Student culture & diversity: A-

"[Princeton High School] is amazing for anybody trying to reach Ivy Colleges and other top tear schools," one student wrote. "So many students are so successful because of the amount of work teachers put into them."

Another said there may be too much focus on grades at Princeton High School, "Depending on what group of friends you're a part of you can feel pretty worthless for getting anything below A's."

4. New Trier Township High School District No. 203 — New Trier Township, IL

Total schools: 2

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A

Student culture & diversity: C+

"At New Trier [High School], there is a club for just about everyone. The clubs are all supported by the school and offer countless, unique opportunities to students," one student reported.

3. Jericho Union Free School District — Oyster Bay Town, NY

Total schools: 5

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A+

Student culture & diversity: B+

"People definitely are competitive but students do help each other out which is great. Teachers are mostly great. Students supplied with notes and everything they need for courses," wrote one Jericho Senior High School student.

2. Eanes Independent School District — Austin, TX

Total schools: 11

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A+

Student culture & diversity: B-

One Westlake High School student reported that "There is a major emphasis on sports, particularly football. At the same time, students compete to get into the top the percent of the class and choose classes based on how they will affect their GPA — not on their relevance or interest. The performing arts and robotics programs are amazing."

1. Tredyffrin-Easttown School District — Tredyffrin Township, PA

Total schools: 8

Academics: A+

Teachers: A+

Resources & facilities: A+

Student culture & diversity: B

"The teachers are very supportive of every student. They do not instill a sense of competition for grades, but rather they ensure each student is successful in the classroom by making learning an engaging and meaningful experience," said one senior at Conestoga Senior High School.

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The report, more than a year in the making, uses data sets from the Department of Education and provides one of the most comprehensive looks at the teacher shortage to date.

The problem is multipronged: At a time when public school enrollment is on the upswing, large numbers of teachers are headed for retirement or leaving the profession because of dissatisfaction with working conditions in a profession seen as less desirable than it once was. Meanwhile, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is dropping dramatically, falling 35 percent nationwide in the last five years, the report found.

The shortages are particularly severe in special education, math, science, and bilingual or English-learner education, as well as in locations with lower wages and poorer working conditions. And while geography plays a role – poor urban and rural school districts shoulder the most shortages – by and large, they disproportionately impact low-income students and students of color.

The teacher supply and demand landscape is a sea change from the years surrounding the Great Recession, when school districts were forced to hand out thousands of pink slips amid budget cuts, resulting in a surplus of teachers. However, as the report outlines, teacher demand has rapidly increased as the economy has improved, especially as more schools adopt lower teacher to pupil ratio policies.

"Demand will continue to increase over the next decade as the school age population increases," said Leib Sutcher, a research associate at the institute and one of the paper's authors. "Shortages aren't an issue because they're a headache for the HR department, but rather because they impact students. Districts cancel courses, hire unprepared or substitute teachers."

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By far, the biggest culprit of the current shortage, the researchers found, is attrition rates among teachers, which account for as much as 95 percent of the entire educator drought. At 8 percent annually, the attrition rate in the U.S. is about twice as high as the rates in countries like Finland and Singapore, often thought of as the education superstars of the world.

"We knew it was high, but we were really surprised to see it was such a huge share of the demand," Darling-Hammond said.

If supply trends were to persist at these current lows, the researchers said, by 2018, the annual shortfall could grow to 112,000 teachers.

One potential solution the researchers offer is that while much focus is placed on recruiting new teachers into the workforce, policymakers should instead focus on ways to keep the teachers that are already there, especially those working in hard-to-staff schools.

Cutting the attrition rate by half, to 4 percent, the researchers underscored, could solve the entire teacher shortage problem.

"Teaching conditions have hit a low point in the United States in terms of salaries, working conditions and access to strong preparation and mentoring – all of which would attract and keep a stronger, more sustainable teaching pool," Darling-Hammond said.

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