Research Report: Nationally, no teacher shortage but challenges persist in getting the right teachers where they’re needed.

New research from the Center for Public Education, an initiative of the National School Boards Association, takes an in-depth look at the the “teacher pipeline.” One conclusion:

At the national level it appears the current supply of teachers is enough to meet demand. The enrollment drop off in teacher preparation programs is being offset by higher rates of completion and lower attrition rates among new teachers. In addition, the number of schools reporting vacancies has dropped significantly. Yet this is likely small consolation to the many states and districts struggling to staff their schools.

The challenge may not be finding more teachers. Rather we may need to be more strategic in getting the right teachers with the right qualifications to where they are most needed.

The researchers look at policies and practices in teacher preparation, recruitment and retention. It’s a relatively short (36 pages) and readable report that sheds light on a critical issue for educators, policymakers and businesses in our state. Of particular interest is their assessment of where gaps persist.

However, the overall numbers mask imbalances that are creating shortages on various fronts:

• By state: the nation is awarding more teacher licenses, but 20 states have seen decreases. Oklahoma, Washington, Minnesota, Virginia and New York have all seen certificates drop by one third to almost one half in the last four years (Title II HEA, 2015). Other states, such as South Dakota, struggle to find enough teachers to keep up with increases in student enrollments (South Dakota Department of Education, 2015).

• By subject area: schools report vacancies in STEM fields more than others. They also have more difficulty hiring special education and bilingual teachers (Cowan, 2015).

• By school level: there is actually a surfeit of new elementary teachers, but schools report having trouble filling positions in their middle and high schools (AACTE, 2013).

• By student minority/poverty enrollments: by some accounts, it is easier for traditionally hard-to-staff schools to fill positions than it used to be. However, high-poverty and high-minority schools still have more trouble than others (NCES, Title II, 2015).

• By staff race/ethnicity: the student population is increasingly diverse. In many states, public schools have a majority-minority student body. Yet four out of five teachers are white (AACTE, 2013).

More on this in the Seattle Times. School board members may also be interested in a new Brookings Institution report, “School superintendents have no contractual obligation to improve learning.”

We found that while 112 school boards (97.4 percent) specified that formal academic credentials were required of their superintendents, only nine (7.8 percent) listed (usually vague) academic goals like raising graduation rates; another nine had superintendents create their own goals, and three (2.6 percent) did both. In short, very few school boards use contract provisions to hold superintendents accountable for student achievement and attainment.

Also in the Seattle Times, Gene Balk reports that Seattle has the fifth largest achievement gap between black and white students among the nation’s 500 largest public school districts. 

White kids in Seattle’s public schools are doing great.

They’re performing about two grade levels above the national average on standardized exams. That finding comes from a sweeping new Stanford study of 2009-2012 test scores from third- through eighth-grade students around the country.

But for black kids in Seattle, the data from that study paint a very different picture. They test one and a half grade levels below the U.S. average. Compared with their white peers in the city, black students lag by three and a half grade levels.

We wrote previously about the city’s efforts to close the gap, which we also cited in our foundation report, saying,

Washington must also continue to make gains in student achievement by closing achievement gaps between groups of students and raising the high school graduation rate. These efforts will ensure every student is prepared for life-long career success in a dynamic economy, capable of fully realizing the abundant opportunities for rewarding civic, community, and workplace achievement.

Our report emphasizes that teacher quality is the critical – the determinative – factor driving student achievement. We applaud the ongoing research designed to make sure the right teachers are in the right classrooms every day, promoting learning and expanding opportunities.