Teacher shortages are real, but not for the reason you heard



By Sharon Lurye, The Associated Press and Rebecca Griesbach, AL.com

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Everywhere, it seems, back-to-school has been shadowed by worries of a teacher shortage.

The U.S. education secretary has called for investment to keep teachers from quitting. A teachers union leader has described it as a five-alarm emergency. News coverage has warned of a crisis in teaching.

In reality, there is little evidence to suggest teacher turnover has increased nationwide or educators are leaving in droves.

Certainly, many schools have struggled to find enough educators. But the challenges are related more to hiring, especially for non-teaching staff positions. Schools flush with federal pandemic relief money are creating new positions and struggling to fill them at a time of low unemployment and stiff competition for workers of all kinds.

Since well before the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have had difficulty recruiting enough teachers in some regions, particularly in parts of the South. Fields like special education and bilingual education also have been critically short on teachers nationwide.

For some districts, shortages have meant children have fewer or less qualified instructors.

In rural Alabama’s Black Belt, there were no certified math teachers last year in Bullock County’s public middle school.

“It really impacts the children because they’re not learning what they need to learn,” said Christopher Blair, the county’s former superintendent. “When you have these uncertified, emergency or inexperienced teachers, students are in classrooms where they’re not going to get the level of rigor and classroom experiences.”

While the nation lacks vacancy data in several states, national pain points are obvious.

For starters, the pandemic kicked off the largest drop in education employment ever. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people employed in public schools dropped from almost 8.1 million in March 2020 to 7.3 million in May. Employment has grown back to 7.7 million since then, but that still leaves schools short around 360,000 positions.



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