More than half of K-12 school principals reported a dearth of teaching staff between 2020 and 2022, and nearly three-quarters attributed their increased vacancies to fewer people applying for jobs rather than more teaching positions being added, according to survey results released Wednesday by RAND Corp.
For the 2021-22 school year specifically, top barriers to filling positions included low compensation, underqualified candidates and a slow district hiring process, according to principals responding to the survey administered in March and April 2022. Adding to their staffing woes in 2021-22, 86% of principals said they lacked enough substitute teachers.
However, principals at schools that served mostly White students were much less likely to say they faced these barriers, and the report noted that schools that traditionally serve students of color and those from low-income backgrounds tend to be more likely to employ underqualified candidates and report challenges with the pace of hiring cycles. But, it added, the extent to which the pandemic furthered this pressure remains unclear.
When teacher vacancies surged during the pandemic, some surmised that the increase may have been due to more positions being created with federal emergency funding.
However, while it's possible new openings could have contributed to the problem, this survey shows most principals actually cited a shortage of applicants as the driving factor.
Principals were also more likely to chalk up higher teaching vacancies to an increase in staff resignations, fewer people accepting job offers, and more teachers opting for early retirement.
"The data do suggest that principals largely did not consider Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding the reason why vacancies had risen," said George Zuo, associate economist for RAND, in an email. Around a quarter of principals didn’t see vacancies increase, “and only 16% of the remaining principals pointed to an expansion in hiring."
Zuo said a lack of school-level data on where ESSER funding was directed makes it hard to determine whether increased vacancies resulted from schools' inability to attract teachers despite federal funding — or because federal funding hadn't yet reached schools.
"It’s possible principals had ESSER funding but didn’t expand the number of hiring positions because of the difficulty of filling existing openings — but our data unfortunately can’t verify that," said Zuo.