In December of 2019 the US Department of Labor confirmed that the number of teachers that schools across the country are short is 300,000.A year ago when we here at the E Squared Group put together a formulation for projecting the 5-year teacher shortage, we used statistics from the US Department of Labor to do so. When those numbers looked unrealistic to us, we held off releasing them. However, when we received confirmation in December that the number was 300,000, we felt assured that our projections were on target as our number was 290,000.

So that's the good news. The bad news is if our projections of the 3.5 million teachers retiring at a 20 percent rate holds true, in 5 years we are looking at a 1.5 million teacher shortage. To put that another way, that means in every private, public and charter school building there will be 13 teacher vacancies.

Based on research that we did 4 years ago, it was apparent that it would be small and rural schools who felt the impact first. This belief is holding true as I have spoken to numerous executive directors of state small and rural school associations. Research we did last summer with principals in Michigan showed us two things. First, it's not just math, science and special education where there is a shortage. Just two weeks before the start of school, principals were still looking for kindergarten teachers.

So, what’s a superintendent or a principal to do? There are many steps you can take, but none is the magic panacea. Current available remedies include:

Grow Your Own

There are many groups and state organizations that have taken this approach but that's a long game. While there are a plethora of these programs being attempted, there is no research yet showing that this effort will yield substantial results.

Online or Virtual Classes

Having taught math to 5th graders as a volunteer, I know the importance of understanding who is paying attention. Usually it is the student who didn't understand, who needs a teacher to explain it a different way. It is beyond me how one would do it in a virtual environment. While an aide might be there to ensure everyone is paying attention, will he/she be able to bring to light what that student didn't understand? I have long contended that if you think it's difficult to get a kid out of bed, dressed and to school, just try convincing them to put away the Doritos, turn off the Price is Right and sit down at a computer for "school.”

Shorten the School Week

Right now in Colorado, according to Michelle Murphy, the executive director of the Small and Rural Schools Group, there are 80 districts who have done just that. Perhaps working a 4-day week could entice some teachers but ultimately it merely reduces the operating cost of having a building open one less day. With just 26 percent of families who have a stay home parent, this effect will ripple across communities.

Consolidate School Districts

As the community school(s) is the heart, soul and common denominator of a community as many can testify this is tantamount to licking fire.

Eliminate Courses

While this may be a choice for higher level science, math and foreign language classes, it simply cannot apply to special education.

Alternative Certified Teachers

According to research done by Christopher Redding at the Peabody School at Vanderbilt University, these individuals have an 8 percent higher attrition rate that traditionally trained teachers. Of the 85 alternative programs that NCTQ looked at, Kate Walsh, the NCTQ's president, deemed most of them "horrible" in an interview.

International Teachers

There is an increased use of international teachers across the country. They are coming from the Philippines, South Africa, Spain, and India to name a few. This is a temporary fix as a J-1 visa has an initial longevity of three years but can be expanded to six. It is also expensive for both the school and the teachers. Schools will pay a minimum of $5,000 to obtain the visa and they may pay travel expenses as well. Teachers who are using a recruiting service to find a job here in the US will pay that firm up to 20 percent of their salary plus travel expenses, and often many additional fees. As the federal government continues to cut and change visas numbers and qualifications, this may not be a reliable option.

Do Recruiting and Retention Differently

  • We have looked at hundreds and hundreds of schools’ recruiting efforts. Even though the market has changed, most have not changed their approach. While recruiting and retention are two separate activities, schools have a tendency to treat them with one broad brush stroke, and most school boards have yet to change their hiring policies.


About the Author

Jacqueline Gordon is a Human Capital Management Solutions Provider for K-12 Schools at E Squared, moving schools and school districts from a passive to an active model. E Squared – Effective Educators, was initially started to help school districts staff shortage areas.  It soon became obvious that schools fail because they fail to put the right person in the position of leadership.

Ms. Gordon works with K-12 schools in the US helping the find the leaders they need to succeed.  Internationally she represents the largest private education group in China, with 12 schools and 45,000 students.