Recruitment & Retention What the Research Says

The New School Staffing Landscape, in Charts

By Sarah D. Sparks — October 17, 2023 2 min read
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More than 8 in 10 public schools continue to face vacancies in teachers as well as support staff like aides, bus drivers, and mental health professionals—but fewer administrators started this school year feeling short-staffed than last year.

New data from the School Pulse Panel, a nationally representative survey conducted this summer and released Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics, finds 45 percent of school administrators reported feeling understaffed before the start of the 2023-24 school year, down from 53 percent last year.

At the same time, the share of districts still trying to fill positions in key subjects remains the same this year compared to last.

“Although we see a somewhat smaller share of public schools starting the new academic year feeling understaffed, the data indicate the majority of public schools are experiencing staffing challenges at the same levels they did last school year,” says Peggy Carr, the NCES commissioner, in a statement on the data.

New vacancies may be a good sign in some districts, said Paul Bruno, an assistant professor of education policy, organization, and leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who studies staffing trends. In a separate analysis of Illinois school staffing, Bruno found higher vacancy rates among districts that received more federal pandemic recovery grants, suggesting that they may be creating new teaching positions rather than trying to replace teachers who left or retired.

For example, the share of schools offering wraparound services or community schools has jumped from 45 percent to 60 percent in the last year, according to the School Pulse Panel data. More than a third of schools surveyed are now offering tutoring and mentoring, social services, and dental services. However, many instructional support staff have been hired using the $180 billion that Congress allotted to schools in three rounds of pandemic relief aid. Schools have less than a year to spend the remainder of that aid, so they will have to find other ways to support those new staff in order to keep them.

In addition, administrators successfully hired more instructional specialists this year than last.

More administrators this year reported they had an easy time hiring teachers in core subjects like math, English/language arts, social studies, physical education, and elementary education. But the majority of schools found hiring difficult in every subject except social studies and P.E. More than 3 in 4 administrators said they had difficulty hiring teachers for physical sciences, foreign languages, and special education in 2023-24.

Seven in 10 administrators said they simply got too few candidates, particularly for hard-to-fill subjects like special education. Nearly that many reported the candidates who did apply weren’t qualified. That pattern suggests that efforts to lower the certification requirements for teachers in California and 11 other states might have increased the number of teachers generally, but may not boost the pipeline for teachers in specialized subjects.

In Illinois, Bruno found 40 percent of the difference in staffing appeared between schools within the same district.

“Administrators understand that some of their schools are harder for them to staff than others,” Bruno said. “For an individual district, it’s often very hard to differentiate your policies for different schools. Bargaining centrally for things like different levels of compensation at different schools is both logistically harder and politically much more sensitive.”


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