Special Report
Staffing Our Schools

Why Staffing Schools Is Harder Than Ever

June 15, 2022
Image of an empty desk.
Angela Alfaro, a paraprofessional at Pascual LeDoux Academy in Denver, holds out a bag for students to drop their trash in after lunch, one of many duties she performs to help the classroom run smoothly.
Laura Baker/Education Week and Dmitry Kovalchuk/iStock/Getty
“Working conditions in schools are student learning conditions."

That statement—from Henry Tran, an education professor at the University of South Carolina—is deeply understood by most teachers and administrators, and never more so than in the last couple of years. Hardly any school has escaped the staffing hardships that have become so prevalent—shortages that predated the pandemic, but deepened as exhaustion, illness, and disillusionment about pay and other issues took a toll on morale across the K-12 workforce and other dynamics in the labor market made recruitment and retention so difficult.

It's a daunting challenge that education leaders, policymakers, and the broader public must address—and urgently so.

When schools lack adequate staffing, all students lose out. Children with disabilities and English-language learners miss out on specialized services and instruction that are essential to their learning and success. Students from poor families and rural students who live far from their schools lose convenient, free transportation and crucial learning time in school. And all students in need of extra academic help miss out on instruction when teachers and support personnel are stressed, demoralized, and absent.

In the first installment of this two-part series, Education Week takes a close look at the connections between staffing and student learning, explains some of the barriers to recruiting and retaining a strong workforce, and provides a rare look into the experiences and views of K-12's support personnel who are essential to educating our children.