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Too Few Applicants in K-12 Schools

Personnel shortages that challenged K-12 leaders at the outset of the new academic year and continue to disrupt the U.S. public school system are driven by a shortage in the pipeline of new educators and school staff, federal data confirms.

More than half of all public schools in the country reported that they were understaffed at the start of the 2022-23 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the research arm of the Education Department, and 69% reported that too few teacher candidates applying for open positions was the primary challenge.

Additionally, 63% of public schools also reported too few candidates applying for non-teaching staff vacancies.

“The majority of public schools are starting the new school year feeling understaffed, particularly in areas like special education, transportation, and mental health,” National Center for Education Statistics Commissioner Peggy Carr said in a statement. “And while many schools say that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more challenging to fill positions, 20 percent of schools say that they were already understaffed before the pandemic began.”

“These data points are critical,” she said, “for understanding challenges our public schools are facing, allowing policymakers to provide timely assistance to help our students and educators in areas where it is needed.”

As of August, special education and math teaching positions were among the most difficult teaching positions to fill, with 78% and 75% of schools reporting that it was either “very” or “somewhat difficult,” respectively, to hire fully certified teachers in those areas.

The most difficult non-teaching staff positions to fill were transportation staff and custodial staff, with 94% and 84% of schools reporting it was either “very” or “somewhat difficult” to hire staff in these areas, respectively.

The newest tranche of data from the National Center for Education Statistics seeks to better understand the impact of the pandemic on the public education system. It comes just weeks after the White House announced its most serious effort yet to help districts fill teacher and school staff vacancies and alter the educator pipeline to make it easier and more attractive to enter the profession.

Education Department and Labor Department officials are urging state and local education and workforce leaders to address teacher and school staff shortages by increasing wages and expanding teacher preparation programs, including with registered teacher apprenticeships. The two national teachers unions, state school chiefs, governors and teacher colleges are working to expand high-quality registered teacher apprenticeship programs, teaching residencies and so-called “grow your own” programs that help communities establish a pipeline of teachers who grew up in their community. And the private sector, including major human resources and recruiting platforms, are partnering with school districts to advertise K-12 openings.

The effort spans some of the most senior administration officials and Cabinet members, as well as national education and business leaders and human resource experts from across the country. It represents the beginning of a major public-private partnership and underscores the gravity of the situation facing the country’s public school system.

To be sure, the teacher and staff shortages are not universal. Rural schools and schools in neighborhoods that are historically hard to serve – those with high percentages of low-income students, students with disabilities and English-learners – as well as certain positions, such as STEM, foreign languages and special education, are facing the biggest challenges.

Many schools have unfilled positions because they’re adding staff, not because teachers are leaving in droves – though that narrative is bolstered by a significant increase in teacher burnout and low morale, as well as legitimate concerns about the educator pipeline as schools of education report decreased enrollments and fewer students identify teaching as a career of interest.

But those open positions are crucial to the ability of schools to function as safe and healthy learning environments amid a pandemic that’s wrought steep academic setbacks and significant mental health challenges.

On his back-to-school bus tour earlier this month, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona called the teacher shortage a “crisis of respect” and said no one should be surprised to see the pipeline of educators drying up given how little teachers are compensated for the work they do, adding that their average weekly wages have increased just $29 after adjusting for inflation since 1996.

“If we’re serious about addressing the teacher shortage issues, we must first address the teacher respect issue,” he said. “That means first and foremost paying our teachers a livable wage.”

Lauren Camera.(Sept. 27, 2022, at 12:01 a.m.). New Federal Data: Too Few Applicants in K-12 Schools.



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