Common COVID-19 academic recovery efforts like extended learning time, summer school, new curricula and different instructional approaches are falling short because of staff shortages and too little teacher training on those initiatives, according to a report released Wednesday by the Center on Reinventing Public Education.
Meanwhile, teachers have been falling back on "outdated and ineffective instructional practices" such as having students work in groups without direct instruction or engagement, unnecessary screen usage and below-level grade content, according to the report. The findings were based on anonymous interviews with 30 school and district leaders across five public charter and traditional school districts.
Leaders said they prioritized centralizing and standardizing instructional materials as a step toward higher-quality instruction, and they expressed disappointment in third-party professional training, saying it brought little improvement in classroom instruction. Teacher appetite for professional development has also diminished.
District leaders are focused on implementing "strong and consistent instructional techniques system-wide" to address challenges with quality instruction, the report found. However, that runs counter to the teacher autonomy and individualized instruction stressed by academic experts, especially in light of varied student needs after remote instruction.
Autonomy and individualized instruction have been put aside in some cases to ensure that teaching staff are all on the same page, said leaders interviewed by CRPE. To get everyone on the same page, districts are creating consistent routines, purchasing new curricula, and developing content pacing guides and formative assessments.
Low-quality instruction is just one more challenge on the way to academic recovery at a time when staffing shortages are rampant in some areas.
According to a 2022 nationally representative survey from the National Center for Education Statistics, almost half of schools reported full- or part-time teacher vacancies. By 2023, teacher shortages in several states showed signs of worsening.
And in another 2022 poll from the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, 55% of educators indicated they were ready to leave the profession earlier than planned.
A majority of the school systems interviewed by CRPE said this "tight teacher labor market" led to a dearth of high-quality teaching candidates. To address this challenge, many — including the U.S. Department of Education — have suggested tapping into emergency pandemic aid to raise teacher pay or provide retention bonuses as incentive.
However, leaders interviewed for the report said retention bonuses funded by COVID-19 federal aid didn't always work, and teachers still quit mid-year.
Teacher shortages have gained national attention in recent years, especially in light of the pandemic. In 2022, for example, the U.S. Government Accountability Office called on the Education Department to better address the challenge nationwide. The department committed to five strategies in response to that report, which included creating opportunities for teacher advancement and investing in a strong and diverse teacher pipeline.
In the meantime, states have tried solutions such as grow-your-own programs, registered teacher apprenticeships and educator salary hikes. Whether those initiatives are effective, however, remains to be seen.