K-12 teacher shortages — one of the most disputed questions in education policy today — are an undeniable reality in some communities, a newly released study indicates. But they are also a hyper-local phenomenon, the authors write, with fully staffed schools existing in close proximity to those that struggle to hire and retain teachers.

The paper, circulated Thursday through Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, uses a combination of survey responses and statewide administrative records from Tennessee to create a framework for identifying how and where teacher shortages emerge.

Those data principally come from school years leading up to 2019–20, anchoring the results in the pre-COVID era. But they will inevitably resound in debates over the pandemic’s effects on the education workforce, which have come to revolve around the central paradox of teacher shortages: Even as countless school and district officials say they’re struggling to fill positions, national labor statistics show only slight movement in teacher turnover rates the last few years.

Matthew Kraft, a Brown economist and one of the paper’s authors, said that ambiguity around shortages arises from the decentralized nature of K-12 employment, which can bely the realities experienced by many teachers and administrators.

“Teacher shortages are real, period,” Kraft said. “Teacher shortages, however, are not universal. We’re trying to help people understand that it’s actually accurate for people to disagree about this because they’re answering from different perspectives.”

To conduct a comprehensive examination of K-12 employment, Kraft and his collaborators gathered response data from the Tennessee Educator Survey, an annual poll administered to thousands of teachers and school administrators by the state department of education. Tennessee offers a fairly representative setting, including several major urban districts along with substantial suburban and rural populations.

Read the full article about localized teacher shortages by Kevin Mahnken at The 74.