News stories about national teacher shortages have been grabbing high-profile headlines in recent weeks. Many signals point to a teacher workforce in crisis, leading observers to conclude teachers have grown tired of nonstop learning recovery and being caught in the crossfire of national culture wars.

But are these reports of a teacher crisis real or just hysterics? There’s a diversity of opinion on this issue, even among education scholars who closely study teachers. Even before the pandemic, scholars have been offering evidence for and against the reality of catastrophic levels of teacher shortages.

We invited three education scholars to weigh in on this question and offer their recommendations on relieving staffing pressures now and in the future. Emma García is a Senior Researcher at the Learning Policy Institute; Matthew Kraft is an Associate Professor of Education at Brown University; and Heather Schwartz is the director of the Pre-K to 12 educational systems program and a Senior Policy Researcher at the RAND Corporation. 


García: The news headlines are correct: This year, all 50 states have reported shortages in at least one subject area. Of course, shortages also vary substantially across states and districts, largely due to differentials in pay and working conditions. But one thing remains consistent: shortages of well-prepared teachers have historically been most severe in schools that serve larger numbers of students from low-income families and students of color and in subjects with greater opportunity costs, like special education, mathematics, and science.

The U.S. has experienced recurring teacher shortages for decades—a condition the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened. Shortages have been driven by a shrinking teacher education pipeline, high rates of turnover, and increased demand as districts replaced positions cut during the Great Recession and expanded staffing using federal COVID-19 relief funding to address increased vacancies and to support learning needsUnderstanding this is important in addressing current shortages. 

Is this a “critical” problem? Absolutely. When schools can’t hire qualified teachers for vacant positions, they may increase class sizes, cancel course offerings, or hire uncertified individuals to fill positions. High rates of underprepared teachers in a district decrease student achievement and, since they are  more than twice as likely to leave the profession as fully prepared novices, exacerbate teacher turnover. Teacher turnover also harms student achievement, perpetuates unequal opportunities to learn, impacts teacher effectivenesserodes the profession’s appeal, and drains district resources. 

Read the full article about educator crisis in schools by Emma García, Matthew A. Kraft, and Heather L. Schwartz at Brookings.