BOULDER, CO (September 20, 2022) – In this month’s episode of NEPC Talks Education, NEPC Researcher and University of Wisconsin‑Madison Assistant Professor Christopher Saldaña interviews Richard Ingersoll and Tuan Nguyen about teacher shortages. Ingersoll is a professor of Education and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. His research examines K-12 teaching as a job, teachers as employees, and schools as workplaces. Nguyen, an assistant professor in the College of Education at Kansas State University, studies teacher leadership and school improvement, and teacher policy and the teacher labor market.
Professor Ingersoll outlines the nature of teacher shortages, the success of federal and state policies implemented to address these shortages, and the role the pandemic may have played in exacerbating them. He explains that the conventional wisdom about teacher shortages is that there is an insufficient supply of incoming teachers to replace the number of teachers retiring. He notes, however, that the challenge of adequately staffing schools with high-quality teachers is also caused by too many teachers leaving the profession early in their careers, which means that policies should focus on retaining as well as recruiting teachers.
Professor Nguyen describes his work with Chanh Lam and Dr. Paul Bruno to determine the magnitude of the current shortages by examining media references, policy documents, and other publicly available reports to estimate state-level teacher shortages. He explains that this approach is necessary due to the absence of a publicly available national data set on teacher vacancies. Nguyen and his colleagues found evidence of roughly 36,000 vacant positions and 163,000 positions filled by underqualified teachers, with large variation in the number of teacher vacancies and underqualified teachers reported across states for which estimates were possible.
Ingersoll and Nguyen each offer recommendations for policymakers and stakeholders to consider in addressing teacher shortages. Ingersoll’s research has shown that teacher turnover and retention are closely tied to the working conditions in schools. Especially important is the amount of “voice” teachers have into key decisions in their schools. He recommends policymakers and district leaders incorporate teachers’ input into the decision-making process to improve retention. Moreover, teachers have valuable insights to offer, and policy changes would be better informed if they considered the experiences of educators. Nguyen proposes the creation of a national teacher vacancy database. He argues this would go a long way in helping researchers diagnose where teacher shortages are worst and avoid crafting blanket policy solutions that fail to allocate most resources to districts with the greatest needs. Both scholars also emphasize the role of respect and compensation in determining prospective teachers’ decisions to enter the profession and in-service teachers’ decisions to remain.
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