REPORT: Teacher Shortage Worries May Be Overblown

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Nothing has made headlines in 2022 quite like the specter of teacher shortages. Article after article claims that educators are leaving the profession en masse, and that the subsequent shortages will have dramatic effects on student learning. There’s one simple issue with this media furor however: The evidence of a teacher shortage is tenuous at best. 

A recent study by the RAND Corporation indicates that such concerns may be at least somewhat overblown. 

“Among researchers, I think we’ve reached a consensus that there hasn’t been an exodus of teachers during the pandemic,” Heather Schwartz, a researcher at RAND, told the Hechinger Report. “I don’t see many district leaders saying we have a serious, severe shortage of teachers. I don’t see the crisis.”

“Are we going to have such extreme shortages, that we can’t even keep the doors open for schools?” Schwartz continued. “No, that’s not where policymakers need to spend their energy.”

The RAND study surveyed 2,360 members of the American Teacher Panel, which includes both educators and administrators. Questions focused on subjects like teacher wellbeing, stress, working conditions, general perceptions about the industry, and whether or not educators intended to stay in their jobs. 

While Schwartz acknowledged that there are more unfilled positions at schools prior to the pandemic, the study found that this is because there are more available positions to begin with. The Hechinger Report noted that once federal relief funds were passed, schools went on a massive hiring binge — especially for substitute teachers, paraprofessionals, and tutors. 

“This expansion of hiring is confusing if you’re like, wait, there’s huge teacher shortages,” Schwartz stated. “It’s an ironic problem. So many schools were having to scramble just to stay open and staff during severe shortages. Now we have this weird other problem of overstaffing.”

The study, which Hechinger extrapolated on, found that while ⅔ of districts expect some kind of shortage, 58% of those districts expect those shortages to be minor. Only 17% of districts expect a shortage to a large degree. And since there is no standard measurement of what constitutes a shortage, different school districts can understand the definition very differently. Some may consider all vacancies to be evidence of a shortage, while others will only include those vacancies that harm or alter day-to-day operations. 

But the overstaffing problem is what really keeps Schwartz up at night, because the pandemic relief funds aren’t going to last forever. After 2024, the loss of funds, along with declining birth rates, will squeeze district funds even tighter. 

“It’s not easy for schools to shed staff and maintain quality of instruction for students,” Schwartz lamented. 

Garion Frankel
Garion Frankel is a graduate student at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service with a concentration in education policy and management. He is a Young Voices contributor, and Chalkboard Review’s breaking news reporter.

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