School districts facing ‘crisis’ teacher shortage

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Rural school districts in Texas are moving to four-day weeks this fall due to staffing shortages. Florida is asking veterans without teaching training to enter classrooms. Arizona allows students to step in and educate children.

America’s teacher shortage has reached crisis levels — and school officials everywhere are scrambling to make sure that when students return to classrooms, someone will be there to educate them.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association, said of the teacher shortage. “Right now, it’s number one on the list of problems facing school districts…necessity is the mother of invention, and beleaguered districts are going to have to find solutions.”

This year’s students need a summer school. Some districts cannot staff it.

It’s hard to know exactly how many US classrooms are short of teachers for the 2022-2023 school year; no national database accurately tracks the issue. But state and district level reports have emerged across the country detailing staffing shortfalls that range from hundreds to thousands – and remain wide open as summer quickly draws to a close.

The Nevada State Education Association estimated that about 3,000 teaching positions remained vacant across the state’s 17 school districts as of early August. In a January report, the Illinois Association of Regional School Superintendents found that 88% of school districts statewide had “teacher shortage issues” — while 2,040 teaching positions were either vacant, or filled with a “less than qualified” job. And in the Houston area, the five largest school districts all report that between 200 and 1,000 teaching positions remain open.

Carlton Jenkins, superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin, said teachers are so scarce that superintendents across the country have developed a whisper network to alert each other when educators move between states.

“We’re at a point right now, where if I have people who want to move to California, I call and give a referral very quickly,” he said. “And if someone’s coming from somewhere else — let’s say Minnesota — I have fellow superintendents in Minnesota, they call and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got teachers coming to you. ”

Why Are American Schools Understaffed? Experts point to a confluence of factors, including pandemic-induced teacher burnout, low salaries, and some educators’ sense that politicians and parents — and sometimes their own school board members — have little respect for them. their profession amid a growing culture war that has seen many districts and states pass policies and laws limiting what teachers can say about history, race, racism, gender and orientation sexuality of the United States, as well as on LGBTQ issues.

“The political situation in the United States, combined with the legitimate aftermath of covid, has created this shortage,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “This shortage is artificial.”

Palliative solutions to understaffing run the gamut, from offering teachers better pay to increasing the number of qualified people as educators to increasing class sizes. But many of these temporary fixes are likely to harm students by diminishing their ability to learn, predicted Dawn Etcheverry, president of the Nevada State Education Association.

“When you start doubling classes, teachers don’t have that one-on-one with students, that personal ability to understand what the student needs” — both academically and socially, Etcheverry said.

Danika Mills, a former school-based therapist and state director of Unite Us, a technology company that connects health and social service providers, said this decline in the quality of education comes at the worst possible time. . American school children are still struggling to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, she said, and months of online learning havoc have taken their toll on academic progress, social skills and mental health. students.

“We know that students of all ages have experienced a sharp drop in academic performance during the pandemic and now is the time to correct those changes,” Mills said. “Instead, I think and fear that we are facing an even greater decline.”

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The Clark County School District in Nevada, which serves 320,000 students, is one of many school systems taking a patchwork approach to staffing shortages by trying multiple solutions at once. Hoping to reduce its roughly 1,300 teaching vacancies, the district has raised teachers’ starting salaries by $7,000 and is offering a $4,000 “relocation bonus” to new teachers leaving the school. State or more than 100 miles. In an interview, Superintendent Jesus F. Jara said the district is also giving employees a “retention bonus” of up to $5,000 to stay in their jobs.

But, with school due to start in a week, the district is still only 92% staffed, Jara said. And — despite the “around-the-clock” efforts of his human resources team — he doesn’t think the district will close the gap in time.

“I’m still worried, I’m still losing sleep at night, and I’m not going to fill the rest of the 8% of our classrooms by Monday,” Jara said.

On Aug. 8, the district will be forced to roll out corrective measures, Jara said, including pulling central office administrators to work as substitutes and combining multiple classes into large spaces such as auditoriums or gymnasiums.

“In terms of dressing, I think they’re doing everything they can,” said Jeff Horn, executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators. “It’s a mess.”

Other districts and states are trying less orthodox solutions. A new state law in Arizona, signed by Gov. Doug Ducey (R) last month, allows students to take teaching jobs. A similar law, which went into effect in Florida on July 1, offers K-12 teaching jobs to military veterans who have served at least four years. Veterans do not need a bachelor’s degree, but must have earned at least 60 college credits while maintaining a minimum grade point average of 2.5.

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said the need for teachers in his state is dire: his association estimates there are at least 8,000 teaching vacancies this year, up from 5,000 last year. former. But Spar doesn’t think the veterans program is “really a solution” because it can drive unqualified people into classrooms.

“I think we all appreciate what our veterans have done for our country in terms of protecting our freedoms here and abroad,” he said. “But just because you were in the military doesn’t mean you’ll be a great teacher.”

Meanwhile, the school board and the superintendent of the Independent School District in Tucson, Arizona, plan to fill the math teacher gap — the system is short of 24, along with 102 other teachers — by sending a small number of students in online learning for part of the day. The district could hire virtual math teachers from a Chicago-based online education company, the Tucson Sentinel reported. The superintendent did not respond to a request for comment.

And in the Mineral Wells Independent School District and the Chico Independent School District in Texas, officials have moved to a four-day school week for the upcoming school year. In both districts, which are small and rural, school leaders said the change was aimed at attracting and retaining teachers amid significant staff shortages, the Texas Tribune reported. Neither district responded to a request for comment.

In the Madison, Wis., school district, Superintendent Jenkins said that with a month to go until school starts Sept. 1, officials were still working to fill 199 teaching positions and 124 non-teaching positions.

But no child will be short of an adult in the classroom come fall, he said, as the district successfully recruited 269 qualified substitute teachers — mostly by increasing substitute pay rates this spring. Jenkins said he hopes that over the course of the year the district can convince at least some of those replacements to convert to full-time teachers.

“We’re just going to chase them,” Jenkins said. Initial incentives will include “immediate supplies. Every teacher loves their calendar, right? So we provide them with schedules, little things – and we have other things planned that I don’t want to reveal, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

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At public schools in Fairfax County, Virginia’s largest district, Superintendent Michelle Reid said 97% of teaching positions are filled about three weeks before the start of the semester.

Reid said the district of nearly 179,000 students is now making an “everyone on deck” effort to fill those jobs.

“We recruit and process applications and hire educators around the clock, really,” she said. “We intend to continue recruiting and hiring teachers daily as the new school year approaches.”

Nonetheless, the district has begun developing backup plans, Reid said. Although the details vary from campus to campus, one possible strategy is to return administrators with teaching licenses to classrooms – but “hopefully we won’t have to use it “.

Leslie Houston, president of the Fairfax Education Association, said she had never seen so many teachers leave their posts because they felt looked down upon, mainly by politicians and some parents.

“When people were beating up teachers and being really mean about what we were doing and what we weren’t doing,” Houston said, “I don’t think they were really thinking, ‘Who’s gonna teach my kids? ‘ ”

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