Evidence Matters | Coming Up Short: The National Teacher Shortage by the Numbers
November 2, 2023
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the national teacher shortage has entered American public consciousness. But the issue actually predates the pandemic by several years—the pandemic only deepened the crisis.
According to a recent report released by South Carolina’s Center for Educator, Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA), districts across the state reported that they began the 2022-2023 school year with a total of 1,474 vacant positions—a 39% increase from the year before.
As a 2019 Bellweather report points out, there is no single source of data on teacher shortages, and this can often make it difficult to tease apart the data regarding supply and demand and to analyze possible contributing factors. However, educator hiring data from states and districts does give us some insight into aspects of the shortage.
Up until about six years ago, teacher production had actually steadily increased since the 1980s, and had outpaced the number of students enrolled in public schools across the country. However, in 2017, teacher job openings began to outpace hires. At the same time, beginning in 2019, enrollment in teacher education programs began to decline.
But what do these vacancies look like across states? It turns out that most states have more difficulty filling teacher vacancies in specific subject areas and in specific locations.
Once the available data from 2022 are broken down, some trends emerge:
- 18% of schools had one teaching vacancy, while 27% of schools had multiple teaching vacancies
- 60% of schools with at least one teaching vacancy were schools with student bodies comprising 75% or more minority students
- 57% of schools in high-poverty neighborhoods report difficulty filling positions, compared to 41% of schools in low-poverty areas
- 7% of all teacher vacancies were in the field of special education
A look back at data from the last 20 years reveals that that these trends are not new. Researchers analyzed data from 1998 through 2018 and found that, each year, an average of 80% of states have reported difficulty filling special education teaching positions, while 66% of states have reported difficulties with filling teaching positions in both math and science. When looking at geographic regions, southern states have had a harder time hiring teachers than states in other parts of the country.
These trends hold true in South Carolina. According to CERRA’s 2021 Annual Educator Supply and Demand report, fields with the largest escalation in vacancies across the state included special education, math, science, social studies, and early childhood education. The CERRA report highlights that vacancies in early childhood education and social studies more than doubled from the year prior.
Despite the relatively high demand for special education, math, and science teachers, colleges of education continue to graduate more students who are certified in elementary education than students who are certified in areas of greater need. So while jobs at elementary schools in certain geographic areas may have many applicants, other vacancies in other subject areas or certain neighborhoods remain unfilled.
While it is important to have an understanding of the true scope of the educator shortage, examining the numbers is only the first step. As policymakers and institutions of higher education look to ways of addressing the shortage, analyzing links between vacancies and possible causes will be critical.
In future posts, we will examine how various factors may contribute to a shrinking teacher pipeline—as well as to higher numbers of shortages in specific areas—and how we might begin to address this need so that every student is granted the privilege of having a qualified teacher.
Kelly Gregory is the Riley Institute’s Director for Public Education Partnerships and Projects and previously taught for 11 years in South Carolina public schools. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Special Education. She also holds a National Board certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.