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What Can Educational Leaders Do About the Teacher Shortage?

Earlier this year the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) published a report examining teacher shortages in the United States. The EPI found that "the teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought." In fact, "when indicators of teacher quality (certification, relevant training, experience, etc.) are taken into account, the shortage is even more acute than currently estimated, with high-poverty schools suffering the most from the shortage of credentialed teachers."

Looking at the Numbers

According to the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), teacher shortages can be attributed to an "inability to staff vacancies at current wages with individuals qualified to teach in the fields needed." Based on this criteria, the LPI estimated a nationwide shortage of 112,000 teachers in 2018.

To meet demand, school districts are hiring a greater percentage of underprepared and under-certified teachers. Since 2011, the population of teachers without full certification has steadily increased. The same is true of educators without an educational background in the subject they are assigned to teach.

Looking at the Causes

The EPI found several factors contributing to the growing shortage of high-quality teachers:

  • Fewer students complete teacher preparation programs.
  • The teacher pay gap has grown substantially in the past two decades.
  • School environment, especially in high-poverty schools, is demoralizing.
  • Teachers lack support and professional development opportunities.

What Educational Leaders Can Do

Increasing teacher retention is a key factor in addressing teacher shortages, and principal leadership plays a significant role. In 2017, the LPI released a report detailing the many ways school leaders can reduce turnover and alleviate shortages. It starts with feeling supported. That's because turnover rates are nearly 25% among teachers who feel their administrator isn't supportive of staff, fails to communicate a clear vision or doesn't effectively manage general school operations.

Conversely, principals with a non-authoritarian leadership style are associated with low teacher attrition rates. These principals are facilitators, collaborators, team leaders and leaders of leaders. In studies of high-need schools, "principal quality influences teacher attrition even more in schools with large proportions of low-income and minority students."

Ultimately, effective school leaders must ensure that teachers have the resources they need, including open communication channels and sensible budgets. Providing regular and fair teacher evaluations alongside professional development opportunities is also critical. Principals who are inclusive in their decision-making, who listen to teachers' ideas and engage them in making changes will achieve better results in teacher retention, even in high-poverty schools.

The LPI concluded that "recruiting and retaining excellent teachers and principals is critically important for the success of future generations, especially for those living in underserved communities.… Decades of research point to the critical role that high-quality school leaders play in building a strong and stable teacher workforce."

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Economic Policy Institute (EPI): The Teacher Shortage Is Real, Large and Growing, and Worse Than We Thought

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Learning Policy Institute: The Role of Principals in Addressing Teacher Shortages

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