- Less than 2% — just 609 — of more than 40,000 teaching positions statewide in Tennessee were vacant, according to an analysis of teacher shortages at the state, regional, district and school levels during the start of the 2019-20 school year. However, secondary schools accounted for 73% of teaching vacancies in the state, twice as many as in elementary schools, according to a November working paper published by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform.
- Tennessee schools with vacancies reported 39% higher turnover rates, on average, compared to schools without openings, the paper found. In addition, teachers rated working conditions lower in schools with vacancies than did teachers in fully staffed schools.
- The study suggests education leaders could use historical teacher attrition rates to determine which schools are likely to have teacher shortages. Improving workplace conditions and frontloading salary schedules for early-career teachers is another potential solution to addressing shortages in specific areas and districts, the paper said.
The findings create an opportunity to bring together those on both sides of the issue: Namely, is there a widespread teacher shortage or not?
“Shortages can occur for individual schools even when there is a statewide surplus, and schools can enjoy a surplus of labor even when there is a statewide shortage,” the researchers wrote. “Additionally, teacher staffing challenges can vary by subject within and between districts and schools.”
Factors like an area’s supply of new teachers, school working conditions, salary raises tied to experience, and historical attrition rates can strongly influence teacher vacancies, researchers said.
But there is still a lot of data needed to track the matter in real time. Less than 40% of states publish any kind of teacher demand data like the percentage of vacancies or the number of newly hired teachers, the paper said. To tackle this lack of data, researchers suggest expanding federal reporting on teacher labor market and workforce shortage data.
In an October report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office also called out the U.S. Department of Education for not doing enough to track its own goals on the teacher shortage. Specifically, the agency said the Education Department needs to collect data that lets district and state leaders know if ongoing efforts are working.
States have also stepped up their own initiatives to address teacher shortages. These include everything from allowing veterans without a bachelor’s degree to teach in Florida classrooms to a newly formed teacher shortage task force in New Jersey.