Teachers Throw in the Towel: America’s Teacher Shortage
Every American student has heard of the woes of being a teacher in the USA. Low pay, long working hours, and little respect for possibly the most important job in America are all factors that make being a teacher in the US so hard. Additionally, the teacher labor market is unique from other labor markets in the US—wages are not determined by market pressures, but rather by individualized contracts negotiated by schools on a long-term basis. Whereas teachers don’t work during summer, they are expected to work far beyond the 40-hour workweek that is expected of other professions, and working during personal time is expected as a norm.
Because of factors such as the above, America has been suffering from an Educator shortage. An initial report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that in the 2012-2013 school year, the US suffered a shortage of 20,000 teachers. By the 2017-2018 school year, America’s teacher shortage had increased to more than 110,000 teachers. The EPI has not released an updated report since the COVID pandemic hit, but one can only assume the numbers have risen. In any case, even pre-COVID trends showed the rapidly rising rate of educator shortages.
As with many other resources, it’s clear that poorer schools suffer much more acutely than schools in wealthier districts. Whereas inexperienced teachers (less than 5 years of teaching) makes up about 20% of low-poverty school district teachers, this figure rises by almost 5% in high-poverty districts. Combined with the lack of funding in such districts, this figure is only exacerbated. In high-poverty schools, teachers must not only make up for a lack of staff but also work around limited resources—a combination that leads to more students dropping out and a general lower quality of education.
Recently, the US government has taken notice of this critical shortage. The Department of Education recently announced a partnership with state and local governments to support current teachers and make the field more attractive to potential teachers. In the CARES act, a the Higher Education Emergency Relief fund of $14B has set aside funding for specific education goals. For example, localities have been using this fund to pay teachers stipends to support living expenses and can also use such finds to hire new staff.
Although these are steps in the right direction, many fear that this is too little, too late. Although Secretary Cardona seems committed to alleviating the short-term issues for teachers, little is being done to actually address the root issues of education. Although solving such a problem means probing into the deep recesses of American culture and our views on education, it is only a win-win situation. After all, there has never been a downside to educating the next generation.