School district leaders have felt the staffing crisis rumbling beneath their feet for more than a year, and a new school year is only reinforcing their fears about the challenges of recruiting educators and those who support them.
Most schools are seeing fewer job candidates for crucial positions than during the same period last year, an EdWeek Research Center survey shows—and an even greater percentage of those polled are seeing fewer candidates than they need to keep their schools running optimally, new survey data show.
The nationally representative sample of 255 principals and 280 district leaders was conducted between June 29 and July 18. Just shy of three-quarters said the number of candidates this year for teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, food service workers, and custodial workers is insufficient.
That shortage is true even for the small proportion—below 10 percent—of respondents who said they have more applicants this year than last.
Hiring challenges for bus drivers appear particularly painful. Eighty-six percent of respondents said they don’t have enough candidates to fill open bus driver positions. Seventy-nine percent said they have fewer applicants for those positions than they did last year.
Fewer than one-third of respondents said they have enough candidates for teachers, paraprofessional, and food service worker positions.
Schools are also struggling, though not as widely, to find enough administrators. Slightly more than one-third of district leaders and principals said they don’t have enough candidates for open administrator positions. Forty-five percent said they have fewer administrator candidates than they did last year.
A long-building crisis
Administrators were raising the alarm about hiring difficulties throughout the 2021-22 school year. Many districts are seeing far greater staff challenges than the typical difficulties they face luring people to a profession characterized in many places by low pay, minimal benefits, high-stakes responsibilities, and political controversy.
When schools aren’t fully staffed, children lose valuable services and instructional time, and existing employees have to strain to fill gaps. Students with disabilities, students from poor families, and English-language learners are among the groups disproportionately harmed by staff shortages.
Education Week last month published two in-depth reports on these issues: one that explored the compounding effects of staff shortages on student learning, and another that detailed districts’ attempts at solving these problems.
Strategies to cope with the staffing challenges have included shifting to a four-day school week, tapping emergency certified teachers, and using contractors to fill staff gaps, among others.
Districts also have been getting creative to deal with these systemic challenges that show no signs of abating. Among those tactics:
- offering stipends and bonuses,
- asking current employees to take on additional duties, paid or unpaid,
- loosening qualifications,
- raising wages, and
- increasing class sizes.
Some proposed solutions are more drastic. The Emporia district in Kansas recently considered closing an elementary school weeks before the start of the school year to divert staff resources elsewhere. The school board ultimately decided against the move, instead opting for staggered start times, hiring qualified student teachers from a nearby university, and transferring instructional strategists to teaching roles.
Other districts have proposed developing their own affordable housing or tapping outside providers to live-stream some classes.
Data analysis for this article was provided by the EdWeek Research Center. Learn more about the center’s work.