Press Releases

News from EPI The teacher shortage is a growing national crisis: EPI releases first paper in series on national teacher shortage

A new paper by EPI Economist Emma García and Research Associate Elaine Weiss confirms that the teacher shortage is a large and growing problem for our nation’s schools. Additionally, when indicators of teacher credentials associated with effective teaching (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.

Recent research projected the United States would have about a 110,000 teacher shortfall in 2017–2018. However, García and Weiss argue the real magnitude of the teacher shortage would be underestimated if we only consider the new teachers needed to meet new demand, because not all current teachers are fully-certified, experienced, or teaching in their field of study.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Teacher and Principal Survey, the authors find that as of 2015–2016, the report shows that 8.8 percent of teachers do not have a standard state certificate or advanced professional certificate (i.e., they are not fully certified). Nearly a third of teachers do not have an education background in their subject of main assignment, 17.1 percent have followed an alternative route into teaching, 22.4 percent have five or fewer years of experience, and, almost one-in-10 has fewer than two years of experience.

Additionally, García and Weiss find that in high-poverty schools—those serving large concentrations of low-income students—the share of teachers who are not fully certified is close to 3 percentage points higher than in low-poverty schools. Also relative to low-poverty schools, the share of inexperienced teachers is 4.8 percentage points higher in high-poverty schools, the share of teachers who followed an alternative route into teaching is 5.6 percentage points higher in high-poverty schools, and the share of teachers who don’t have educational background in their subject of main assignment is 6.3 percentage points higher in high-poverty schools.

“While the national teacher shortage is a problem for schools across the country, it is a much more acute problem in high-poverty schools,” said García. “These shortages threaten students’ ability to learn and reduce teachers’ effectiveness, and high teacher turnover consumes economic resources that could be better deployed elsewhere.”

This paper is first in a series of six that will explore the reasons for the teacher shortage, and what policymakers can do to solve it. The subsequent reports will discuss why schools struggle to attract and retain excellent teachers, the role of low teacher pay, the tough work environment for teachers, and the lack of professional development and career support available to teachers. The final report will call for immediate policy steps to address this crisis.

“In light of the harms the teacher shortage creates, as well as its size and projected trend, it is critical to understand the nature of the problem and the complexity of the teacher labor market,” said Weiss. “While most people understand teaching is a difficult job, our goal is to provide the attention that we have historically failed to in order to understand and fix the problems contributing to the shortage.”