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Education Law Prof Blog: Teacher Shortages Require Coordinated Strategies, Not Silver Bullets

Last fall, teacher shortages swept states across the nation and caught the attention of major media outlets. Linda Darling-Hammond, Leib Sutcher, and Desiree Carver-Thomas's new essay in Huffington Post reminds us that the shortages are far from over.  This fall is bringing a spate of stories similar to last year.  As they write:

After years of layoffs during the fiscal recession, an upturn in the economy has allowed districts to begin hiring again. The problem is that many districts cannot find qualified teachers to fill the new positions. . . .

Teacher shortages were the topic of a recent gubernatorial debate in Indiana, with the Democratic challenger blaming the policies of the former governor for current shortages, while his Republican opponent pointed to a national crisis as a source of Indiana’s woes. With more than 40 states, plus the District of Columbia, reporting severe shortages in special education, math, and science, and states reporting the hiring of substitutes and individuals without credentials by the thousands, a national shortage seems plausible. Last spring, Indiana Governor Pence (now a vice-presidential candidate) signed into law a major scholarship bill subsidizing the preparation of prospective teachers in an effort to boost supply.

Two weeks ago, the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) released a report on teacher supply and demand that examines the data behind these shortages. We set out to understand the sources of these difficulties and what might be done to resolve them.

They also offer a set of solutions:

  1. Creating competitive, equitable compensation packages that allow teachers to make a reasonable living across all kinds of communities. 
  2. Enhancing the supply of qualified teachers for high-need fields and locations through targeted training subsidies and high-retention pathways. 
  3. Improving teacher retention, especially in hard-to-staff schools, through improved mentoring, induction, working conditions, and career development.
  4. Developing a national teacher supply market that can facilitate getting and keeping teachers in the places they are needed over the course of their careers. 

To my relief, these solutions are very similar to those I pose in Taking Teacher Quality Seriously.  The problem, I point out, is that past reforms have been premised on silver bullet solutions.  Courts, moreover, have often encouraged this type of thinking.  The needs of our students, teachers, and their learning environments are too complex for singular solutions.  

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Derek W. Black

Derek Black is one of the nation’s foremost experts in education law and policy.  He focuses on educational equality, school funding, the constitutional rig...