- Solving educator shortages requires evidence-based, long-term strategies that address both recruitment and retention.
- Specific attention must be paid to recruiting and retaining educators of color who face unique barriers to pursuing education careers.
- Failing to address educator shortages has led to negative effects on students, schools, districts, and communities.
The educator shortage crisis is real, and it requires immediate and sustained attention to identify and implement long-term solutions to improve educator recruitment and retention.
Every child needs and deserves a neighborhood school with well-prepared teachers, class sizes that enable one-on-one attention, and nurses, counselors, and healthy meals to ensure they can thrive. That is why educators at all levels—school district leaders; local, state, and national policymakers; families; and communities—must work together to solve this problem.
The good news is that we know what to do; we have the solutions in front of us. We cannot and should not turn from them and rely on short-term fixes.
In a new report, NEA outlines a wide variety of long-term strategies and solutions that are effective at recruiting and retaining educators and, most importantly, reflect the needs and priorities of educators themselves.
Across the country, educators and their unions, school and district administrators, and policymakers are working together to make education an attractive and competitive career.
How did we get here? These six charts show how educators are being pushed out of the profession by low wages and a lack of respect—if they even consider becoming an educator in the first place.
While we have a long way to go, the path to achieving a well-staffed, equitable, and just public education system is clear.
1. A Crisis Already Well Underway, Exacerbated by the Pandemic
Multiple indicators point toward an educator shortage crisis that has been brewing for more than a decade, since the end of the Great Recession in 2009.
Figure 1 uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) to show job opening and hiring trends for the public education sector, which cover all positions in Pre-K–12 and higher education.
Looking at the area shaded in gray, it is evident that job openings started to outpace hires in late 2017, more than two years before the onset of the pandemic.
2. Too Many Openings, Not Enough Hires
This chart visualizes the same data in a different way—by showing the ratio between the two lines—and stretches back to the start of the JOLTS time series in 2001.
Again, 2017 was the tipping point. From 2001 to 2012, hires consistently outpaced openings. This was followed by a period from 2012 to 2016 during which hires matched openings. Then, starting in 2017, openings started outpacing hires, with this gap growing year to year.
3. Why Educators Are Leaving the Profession
Data provide some insight into the dynamics behind this growing gap between openings and hires—specifically, whether educators were quitting or leaving for some other reason, such as retirement.
This chart shows three monthly rates:
- the percent of all public education employees who quit;
- the percent who were laid off or discharged; and
- the percent who left due to an “other separation,” which is a category that includes retirements, transfers to other locations, deaths, and separations due to employee disability.
These data provide a clear indication that educators quitting—not leaving for other reasons—is driving a significant part of the current educator shortage.
4. Improving the Educator Pipeline
While people leaving education is one part of the shortage equation, another key factor is the declining rate of people choosing education as a career path.
The U.S. Department of Education gathers annual data on teacher preparation enrollments and completions that allow for a look at this critical early stage in the teacher pipeline.
This chart shows enrollment and completion levels from 2008–2009 to 2019–2020; unfortunately, data are not yet available that capture the effects of the pandemic.
What is clear is that enrollments declined steeply from 2009–2010 to 2013–2014—recall that during this period, quits began to increase. They then largely leveled off from 2017 to 2020.
While the pipeline of new educators is not what it should be, there are five ways we can improve educator recruitment.
5. An Evaporating Pool of Educators
Another factor that cannot be overlooked is the declining status of teaching as a profession and the resulting pressure to not go down that path. Evidence of this can be seen in the 2018 Phi Delta Kappan (PDK) Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, where, for the first time, a majority of Americans—54 percent—indicated that they did not want their children to become teachers.
This was a massive drop from the first time this question was asked, in 1969, when only 15 percent of people said no, with a 23-point drop occurring between 2011 and 2018.
In 2022, 62 percent said no, although it is important to note that the question wording changed. In 2019, Phi Delta Kappan surveyed public school teachers, and 55 percent said no, they would not like their child to become a teacher.
For both teachers and members of the public, “inadequate pay/benefits” was the top reason they opposed their child choosing teaching as a career.
6. Recruiting Educators of Color
Specific attention must be paid to recruiting and retaining educators of color who face unique barriers to pursuing education careers.
Ensuring a diverse educator workforce is important beyond simple representation. Both students of color and white students have reported having positive perceptions of their teachers of color, including feeling cared for and academically challenged, and teachers of color often receive higher ratings than white teachers from students of all backgrounds—including white students.
On a grand scale, having more interactions with individuals of other racial/ethnic backgrounds has been shown to make children less likely to hold implicit racial biases as adults.