While it depends on several factors, the overall response is yes. Because education in the U.S. is regulated on the state level, the answer varies depending on where you live. But the overarching consensus is not only are we unable to hire new, qualified teachers, but many existing qualified teachers are leaving the field long before retirement, creating a shortage of teachers.
Red for Ed
The pay gap is a significant problem in the shortage of teachers. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), teachers make about 11.1% less than similarly educated professionals. Beyond that, teachers’ salaries have been on the decline over the past several years, exacerbating the economic issues teachers face.
The National Education Association’s (NEA) Red For Ed movement has organized protests and strikes in several states to bring the issues of educators into the public eye. Their focus is not just on the pay disparity many teachers face, but about making classroom environments better for teachers and students, as well as giving schools support staff needed to be successful.
Teachers in Oregon recently protested, resulting in the closure of about 600 schools. These teachers weren’t asking for pay increases, but rather smaller class sizes, school counselors, school nurses, reinstatement of art and music programs and funds for supplies. Similar protests have taken place in West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arizona and Colorado.
A Dangerous Shortage
The EPI’s 2019 report on the dangerous shortage of teachers cautions effects of the shortage will be felt differently in various districts: “The published estimates of the increasing teacher shortage further understate the magnitude of the problem because the estimates don’t reflect the fact that the shortage of qualified teachers is not spread evenly among all schools but is more acute in high-poverty schools.”
In short, high-poverty and urban schools are feeling, and will continue to feel, the shortage more than schools in other areas.
Some of this disparity has caused competition on a district level. Districts within the same states are offering more money to lure teachers to their school system, according to a report by the Associated Press. While this may temporarily have a positive impact for teachers, it doesn’t solve the problem at large. Each district is funded differently, therefore the districts with more money can afford to attract teachers away from districts that lack funding. In this case, as in most, the students are the ones ultimately suffering.
Public education has long been considered an integral part of our nation’s fabric and success. The recent protests by educators and parents bring light to the growing concern that without significant policy changes, the system that exists currently will not be able to sustain.