No Substitute for Trained Teachers: If the teacher workforce has grown nearly 50 percent since the 1980s, why are states still reporting shortages?

AuthorWeiss, Suzanne

In mid-2017, with the start of the new school year just weeks away, Coloradans might have thought the sky was falling. Over a three-month period, a steady drumbeat of news stories warned of an impending catastrophe for Colorado's K-12 schools.

The first alarm bell was a brief news article on declines in the number of graduates from the state's 50 teacher-preparation programs--a trend that was exacerbating teacher shortages in rural areas.

Next came a story on a handful of particularly hard-hit school districts in remote areas where shortages are nothing new and are primarily attributable to low pay (as little as $24,000 a year) and high turnover. Drawing on a quote from the article, the headline declared the problem a "crisis that would only get worse."

That's when the story went viral.

In the cascade of news coverage that ensued, the words "teacher shortage" and "crisis" became joined at the hip, and the predictions grew more and more dire. By late July, major news outlets were running stories describing a "massive K-12 teacher shortage" that could result in thousands of teaching positions across the state going unfilled in the fall.

But as Colorado schools began opening their doors, the furor subsided more rapidly than it had arisen. Looking back, it's easy to see what happened. The media had garbled the state's data on the annual number of teaching jobs that typically come open and are easily filled (about

3,500 statewide) versus the number of positions that are hard to fill or are staffed by long-term substitutes (about 100 statewide).

Teacher Supply and Demand

As mistaken as the Colorado news coverage was, it touched on a critical and increasingly urgent issue, one affecting nearly every state: teacher supply and demand.

In October 2015, the president of the Nevada Board of Education described that state's teacher shortages as "horrific" and warned that, absent improvement, "We're all going to sink." Around the same time, the Tulsa World declared "Crisis Hits Oklahoma Classrooms," and the Texas education commissioner labeled shortages "the biggest threat to our schools."

Over the past two years, nearly a dozen states have established task forces, ordered up white papers and action plans, or passed legislation designed to ease shortages.

Strategies vary widely. Eight states--Arizona, California, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin--have revamped their teacher-licensing processes and, in some cases, loosened...

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