Teacher shortages became a major story in some states last school year, and they have continued to make headlines across the country this summer, with districts struggling to fill hundreds of openings as classes begin.
While the overall U.S. student-teacher ratio has remained relatively steady, shortages of teachers are common in certain subject areas, including special education, science, and mathematics, and in particular regions, like rural districts.
In some hard-hit states, the shortages have prompted legislative and administrative action.
Current Status: Arizona has been struggling to retain its teachers, with thousands leaving the state in the past few years.
The state does not yet have data on current vacancies, a state education department spokesman said. But hundreds of vacancies have been reported across the state, according to local news reports. More than 1,000 teacher jobs were vacant last year.
Recruitment Strategies: A report by an education department task force called for salary increases, more professional development and new-teacher mentoring, and more strategic teacher-recruitment practices. In May, a constitutional amendment to increase education funding by $3.5 billion over 10 years passed; some districts will use the money to increase teacher salaries.
In one measure to curb the shortage, the state board of education agreed in March to temporarily lower requirements to teach middle school or lower-level high school math classes. Those teachers will only be tested on their proficiency in foundational-level mathematics, like algebra and geometry, instead of trigonometry and calculus.
Meanwhile, some state organizations and foundations have partnered to recruit military veterans to be substitute teachers by paying for their substitute-teaching certificates and fingerprint-clearance cards, in hopes that some will consider teaching full time.
Current Status: Since 2011, Indiana has seen a 32 percent decline in the number of individuals receiving first-time licenses—instructional, administrative, or in support services—from the state department of education. That drop, coupled with a dip in enrollment at schools of education, has reportedly created teacher shortages in certain parts of the state, although the department does not track teacher job vacancies.
Recruitment Strategies: In April, Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill to establish a scholarship fund for college students who commit to teaching in Indiana for at least five years after graduation.
That was the primary bill related to teacher recruitment last legislative session, despite the recommendations of a blue-ribbon commission made up of 49 state officeholders and educators who studied the shortage. The commission had advised establishing a state-funded mentoring program, setting local compensation scales, and reducing the number of standardized tests in favor of teacher-constructed assessments.
The education department has made its own efforts to recruit and retain teachers, including creating a full-time position at the department to support educators and establishing the Indiana Center on Teaching Quality at Indiana University. The center, underwritten by a federal grant, will provide support to special education teachers.
Current Status: Oklahoma districts are trying to fill more than 500 teaching vacancies as the current school year begins—despite eliminating more than 1,500 teaching jobs since last school year, according to a survey by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
Last year, the association’s survey found about 1,000 teaching vacancies across the state, even after 600 teaching positions had been eliminated.
Recruitment Strategies: In November, Oklahomans will vote on a ballot measure on whether to increase the sales tax to finance $5,000 raises for teachers. Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has proposed a separate, smaller salary increase, as well as a special legislative session to address the issue. Currently, the minimum starting salary for teachers in the state is $31,600, a comparatively low figure that some district officials say makes it hard to attract candidates from out of state.
In the meantime, the state is relying heavily on emergency certifications as a stop-gap measure. Such certifications allow people without a teaching certificate to teach for one year (or allow a certified teacher to teach a new subject before getting recertified). So far for this school year, the state board of education has approved 372 emergency certifications.
The number of emergency certifications issued has grown dramatically year over year; in 2015-16, Oklahoma issued a record-setting total of 1,063. In 2011-12, the state issued just 32.
Steffie Corcoran, a spokeswoman for the state education department, said in an email that hundreds more emergency certifications will likely be issued this month and probably a high number in September as well.
District leaders told the state school boards association that teachers with emergency certifications often require more support than other new teachers, and many only stay for one year.
Current Status: In April, Hawaii education department officials were expecting more than 1,000 teacher vacancies throughout the state. After a recruitment blitz, about 880 new teachers were hired over the summer, spokesman Derek Inoshita said in an email.
Inoshita said 483 positions were still open as of Aug. 16, although that includes non-classroom positions like librarians and positions that may not actually be needed.
Recruitment Strategies: The Aloha State has been recruiting teachers from the U.S. mainland, a strategy that has had varying degrees of success: After news broke that Hawaii was recruiting, the state department of education received thousands of applications, but many were not qualified teachers.
Yet the cost of living in Hawaii is high, and salaries for new teachers are relatively low, although the state did slightly increase starting salaries from last year. They are now $35,324 for teachers who are not licensed in Hawaii and $46,601 for state-certified teachers. That, coupled with the fact that 16 percent of schools are rural, has contributed to the shortages, union officials have said.
Department officials are also working on such initiatives as a new teacher-mentoring program to better retain teachers. Some improvements have occurred: 56 percent of new teachers were still employed in 2015 after five years, compared to 48 percent in 2011.
Current Status: Teaching shortages have been most pronounced in Clark County, the nation’s fifth-largest district, which encompasses Las Vegas. The district has reportedly been making progress. In July, it announced that it had 370 teacher vacancies to fill before school starts on Aug. 29—a large number, but a far cry from the more than 1,000 teaching slots the district had to fill in July 2015.
Recruitment Strategies: Last year, the Clark County district rolled out an extensive marketing campaign called Calling All Heroes and began aggressively recruiting teachers from out of state. The district held out-of-state and virtual job fairs, boosted social-media outreach, and offered financial incentives, including a $5,000 hiring bonus. Starting-teacher salaries in the district were boosted from $34,600 to $40,900, and a state scholarship program for career-changers was introduced at select education schools.
In February, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval issued an emergency regulation, since codified into law, to allow the state to issue provisional licenses that allow people who have not fully met licensure requirements to teach.
The provisional licenses are good for one year of teaching, and the teachers must then meet state standards. Between Feb. 8 and Aug. 12, the state issued 1,372 provisional licenses and/or endorsements for an area of specialization to 1,248 educators.
A version of this article appeared in the August 24, 2016 edition of Education Week as Help Wanted: Teacher-Shortage Hot Spots