Article Archive

TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin Newsletter



Quick look at what's inside....

The view from NCTQ
  • Disproving the prophets of teacher shortages
Digging into the research
  • Teaching teachers in Mississippi
  • Not-so-strategic staffing

The view from NCTQ

Disproving the prophets of teacher shortages

Too often in education, education groups' pursuit of validation for their policy priorities and the media's desire for a strong narrative lead them to whip up a public frenzy at the expense of accuracy and nuance. That's certainly what happened with states' rapid retreat from testing as well as their sudden distaste for the Common Core standards. It's why state legislatures continue to fight for class size reductions even though the adjustments are always too marginal to have any real impact on learning.

It's also true when it comes to declarations of a national teacher shortage, claims that the media has bought hook, line, and sinker. Reporters continue to cite a 2016 report from the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) with the title, "A Coming Crisis in Teaching?" Its stark conclusion warned that the nation may face a 100,000+ plus annual teacher shortage by 2018. You may recall this troubling graphic:

LPI Data
Reprinted from Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher supply, demand, and shortages in the U.S. Palo Alto, CA:Learning Policy Institute. page 2.

It's almost 2018, folks and while LPI's dire predictions rested on one set of assumptions, we now have actual data that showed that their projections were way off. The newest data out of NCES show that our public school teacher workforce is not shrinking but growing! In 2015-16, the estimated number of teachers reached over 3.8 million - an increase of about 400,000 in four years.

Moreover, based on 2015-16 projections, the number of students probably hasn't grown nearly as fast as the number of teachers. Education Week reports, "The number of students went up about 2 percent over four years. And the number of teachers went up 13 percent during that same time."

Check out this great graph from Education Week illustrating this change in population. It clearly shows a dip after the Great Recession, but since then, contrary to the fears of those claiming a nationwide teachers shortage, the teacher workforce has grown at a much faster rate than the student population.
Reprinted from Loewus, L. (2017). Teaching Force Growing Faster Than Student Enrollment Once Again. Education Week.

You can see our own depiction of growing teacher workforce below, using NCES's data:

Of course, none of this is meant to deny the existence of severe shortages in some places or in some teaching areas. What it DOES mean is that, overall, there is not a new national teacher shortage. See our recent shortage fact sheet for more information.

We still don't know why this increase has occurred. Possible explanations include that more people may be completing teacher preparation programs, that current teachers may be staying longer, that the student population may be growing, or that states are hiring more teachers through emergency certifications.

Unfortunately, one of the dangers of trying to solve the chronic misalignment of teacher supply and demand by erroneously labeling it a national teacher shortage is that the resulting remedies are all wrong. Of course, states and districts need to address their very real struggles recruiting teachers in some fields and localities. Still, in order to develop rational and effective solutions, leaders need a clear and accurate picture of the problem - and not a flawed, worst-case scenario.

For instance, districts may reject the idea of paying higher salaries to all teachers as unaffordable. But, they may be able to afford paying higher salaries specifically to teachers in shortage fields and location.

Similarly, states may react to the shortage mirage by authorizing poorly qualified emergency certified teachers, rather than improving reciprocity to make it easier for teachers to move into the state.

Teacher preparation programs, working on the assumption that a national shortage means plentiful job opportunities, may wind up preparing teachers for overpopulated fields like elementary education instead of recommending would-be teachers also obtain certification in special education or ESL.

So, the bottom line is, the teacher workforce has grown in the last few years. Now these researchers and analysts have a responsibility to acknowledge that their fears have not come true. Those who allow the media to perpetuate inaccurate stories are doing a disservice to school districts and their students across the country.

Anchor1. Data Sources: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), "Table 209.20: Number, highest degree, and years of full-time teaching experience of teachers in public and private elementary and secondary schools, by selected teacher characteristics: Selected years, 1999-2000 through 2011-12." Retrieved 25 August 2017 from: Taie, S., and Goldring, R. (2017). Characteristics of Public Elementary and Secondary School Teachers in the United States: Results From the 2015–16 National Teacher and Principal Survey First Look (NCES 2017-072). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved 25 August 2017 from

— Kate Walsh and Hannah Putman

Read More and Discuss

Digging into the research

Teaching teachers in Mississippi

Mississippi had to do something.

Between 1992 and 2013, no more than 55 percent of its 4th grade children could look at a piece of writing and locate relevant information or use their understanding of the text to identify details that support a given interpretation or conclusion.

In short, nearly half of these students couldn't adequately understand what they read.

But in recent years, the state's response to this challenge has been strong and swift:

In April 2013, Mississippi passed a law which requires, with some exceptions, holding back 3rd grade students who score at the lowest levels on the state-wide reading test. In Spring 2015, the year the law first went into effect, 15 percent of third graders placed at the lowest achievement level—potentially having to repeat the grade.

Beginning in January 2014, the state education department launched a massive professional development program that offered LETRS training to all Mississippi K-3 educators. In target schools (those with large proportions of low-performing readers), the state mandated participation in the training and provided literacy coaches.

During this same period, the state also worked with the Southeast Regional Education Laboratory to develop a test for teachers on early literacy and an observation tool to measure classroom practice.

Recently, researchers used the results from the test and observations to examine how teacher knowledge and classroom practice changed over two years. Jessica Sidler Folsom and Kevin Smith (both of Florida State) and Kymyona Burk and Nathan Oakley at the state education department summarized their analysis, finding results that might best be characterized as "cautiously hopeful."

As measured by the test, average teacher knowledge of early literacy skills did go up about ten percentile points, an improvement which appears to be correlated with the LETRS training.

Similarly, in the schools where training was supplemented by on-site observations, the key areas observed (instructional quality, student engagement, and teaching competencies) all showed improvement that related to the LETRS training

It's important to note several caveats with these results. First, the study is not experimental, so cannot prove causation. Second, even after training, teachers managed to answer about half the questions correctly on average. There is still a long way to go. Third, the law requires the state to produce better student achievement results, not merely improve teacher knowledge and skills.

However, rather than end on the standard "more research needed" note, we did a little digging and found two positive, relatively recent student trends that may be attributable to these efforts:

(1) In 2015, 60 percent of Mississippi 4th graders met the grade-level standard for the NAEP reading test – the highest proportion since 1992.

(2) In spring 2016, 13 percent of Mississippi 3rd graders did not meet the standard to be promoted to 4th grade. One year later, that proportion had fallen to 8 percent.

So perhaps, in addition to more research, more time to let these interventions play out is needed as well.

— Rob Rickenbrode

Read More and Discuss

Not-so-strategic staffing

Like all of us, principals respond to performance pressures by seeking to alleviate them as quickly and simply as possible. Unfortunately, when it comes to the pressure to improve test scores, the simplest solution may be the most likely to backfire.

A recent study by Jason Grissom of Vanderbilt University and Demetra Kalogrides and Susanna Loeb of Stanford University shows that over a ten-year period, principals in Miami-Dade County Public Schools rearranged their teaching staffs in response to the accountability pressures of No Child Left Behind. Principals moved their best teachers into tested grades (3rd through 10th), presumably with the goal of improving outcomes in the grades most obviously linked to schools' accountability scores.

The researchers found that principals were more likely to engage in this type of "strategic staffing" in schools where they had more control over staff assignment and in schools that had received a failing grade and were therefore facing particularly intense pressure to improve. Overall, a below-average teacher (with student assessment scores one standard deviation below the mean) had a 13 percent chance of being moved to a non-tested grade, compared to a 5 percent chance of being moved among above-average teachers.

Of course, moving a struggling teacher to a different grade would not be bad IF that teacher turns out to be better equipped to teach that new age range. A non-state assessment administered by researchers to gauge performance in the earliest grades revealed this not to be the case; instead, they found that K-2 students taught by teachers who had been moved from a higher grade lost so much ground that it carried over into their performance on the 3rd grade tests, if not even longer.

What seems like a sound short-term strategy actually creates longer-term harm.

— Hannah Jarmolowski

Read More and Discuss



Backing the Wrong Horse: The Story of One State's Ambitious But Disheartening Foray Into Performance Pay

Backing the Wrong Horse: The Story of One State's Ambitious But Disheartening Foray Into Performance Pay is part of the tenth annual publication in the State Teacher Policy Yearbook report...

ESSA Educator Equity Analyses

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)'s analyses of states' plans for ensuring that low-income and minority students are not disproportionately taught by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers under the...

Lifting the Pension Fog: What teachers and taxpayers need to know about the teacher pension crisis

This report, Lifting the Pension Fog: What teachers and taxpayers need to know about the teacher pension crisis, evaluates state teacher pension policies, and includes policy profiles and tailored recommendations...

Let us know what you think on Twitter or Facebook.
< August 2017 | October 2017 >