As students returned to the classroom this fall, some schools had difficulty finding enough teachers for the year. In Missouri and Texas, a small number of districts shortened their school weeks to four days to attract more teachers.
But due to the lack of specific government data, it’s difficult to tell if this is a nationwide trend. The federal government doesn't collect data for the current school year on how many teachers each district or school needs. And while it tracks job openings and the number of people who quit in the education field, those figures include administration and support staff in addition to teachers.
The Education Department does count how many people are enrolled in teacher preparation programs though. That data set can serve as a proxy for the overall interest in teaching and can give a sense of whether teacher shortages are more likely in the future.
Student-to-teacher ratios in public schools are relatively consistent, increasing from 15.4 to 15.9 between 2008 and 2020, the most recent year of data available.
According to the most recent data available, total enrollment in teacher preparation programs fell 16% between the 2008-09 and 2019-20 school years.
Teacher preparation programs provide training to teaching candidates. Each state’s preparation program has different requirements. Programs are primarily run through accredited colleges and universities.
According to the Higher Education Act, teacher preparation providers must be an institution of higher education or other organization offering at least one state-approved teacher preparation program.
In Oklahoma, enrollment numbers in teacher preparation programs faced the biggest drop — an 82% decrease in enrollment — between the 2008-09 and 2019-20 school years. Enrollment numbers more than doubled in Texas and Washington during that same time. Enrollment rates dropped by a quarter in 25 states, higher than the 16% nationwide drop.
Although decreases in enrollment for teacher preparation programs occurred throughout the country, it is not necessarily indicative of a national teacher shortage.
A report from the Education Department claims teacher shortages existed prior to the pandemic. Shortages in special education, bilingual education, career and technical education, and early education are further exacerbated by the pandemic, according to the department.
While current data cannot show whether there’s a national teacher shortage, shortages do exist throughout the country at individual schools and districts.
Some schools in Missouri and Texas shortened their school weeks and extended the hours in the school day in response to teacher shortages. Shortened weeks can serve as an incentive to recruit and retain more teachers.
In northeast Missouri, Brashear, Novinger, La Plata, Schuyler County and Scotland County school districts adopted a shortened school week. The Devers, Athens, Jasper, and Chico school districts in rural Texas also switched to a four-day week. Last May, the Mineral Wells Independent School District in Texas voted to switch to a four-day week beginning in the 2022-2023 school year.
Universities and states set up teaching residencies and allocated money to help address depleted resources among school districts. For example, the University of Alaska- Fairbanks is working with rural districts in the state to recruit both high school students and current noncertificated district employees into the teaching profession. And in New Mexico, more than $15 million dollars in state funds will be allocated to similar teacher residencies. The Education Department published a full list of new state and university teaching programs throughout the US.
Government data tracking the number of teachers employed is extremely limited. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks “local government education” but this category lumps together teachers, school administrators, bus drivers and other noneducational support staff.
Between 2008 and 2021, job openings for state and local government education fluctuated over the last decade with job openings in this field more than doubling between July 2008 and July 2021.
The Education Department does track the ratio of teachers to students nationwide. But those figures have remained steady or increased slightly in recent years.
There is also no government data that tracks the share of teachers who quit or the number of unfilled open teaching positions.
Without more specific government data, it’s not possible to answer the question of whether there is a nationwide teacher shortage.
Learn more about education in the US.
Keep up with the latest data and most popular content.