I flew into Washington, DC to attend what turned out to be one of the most important conferences I have been to in many years: “Solving the Teacher Shortage Crisis.” Hosted by the Learning Policy Institute, 350 attendees discussed how the loss of 250,000 teachers over the last five years amounted to almost a third of the entire K-12 teaching profession. Two former Secretaries of Education, Lamar Alexander and Richard Riley spoke eloquently about their efforts to address the root causes of the teacher shortage nationally. One of the most dynamic speakers was Linda Darling-Hammond, CEO of the Learning Policy Institute. Dr. Darling-Hammond offered sharp analysis and insightful solutions to the crisis. Breakout sessions included teachers, policy wonks and university professors.
The teacher shortage crisis highlights a host of well-known indicators and conditions for the shortage including compensation, preparation, recruitment and retention and professional development to name just a few. But I was reminded of the dovetailing with equity issues such as the need for a qualified teacher in every classroom. Just filling the vacancies is not what this crisis is about, but rather, filling the vacancies with teachers who are qualified to teach in each of our 15,000 school districts.
For example, we probably train enough teachers to fill all the expected shortages but the teachers are not well trained for the individual school locations that need more teachers. Examples of this mismatch in supply and demand are, for example, that many more teachers trained in Wisconsin are not necessarily ready to teach in New York City. Fascinating to me was the detail that in some areas teachers cannot make enough money to live next to the schools they teach in (e.g., imagine making the transition from Wisconsin to NYC where you are not ready to teach in urban classrooms and cannot afford NYC pricing for apartment rentals). If there was one policy lever to pull in favor of better teaching it would be to pay teachers a geographically determined competitive wage and forgive their education preparation debt.
International comparisons are also compelling. Other countries who outperform us pay their teachers more, treat them like professionals instead of baby sitters, respect teachers as professionals and retain their teachers for many years longer than we do. Closer to home, in Chicago, they are working on stronger principal leadership as the way to retain better teachers. Since lack of administrative support is one of the main reasons why teachers leave schools, training principals to build the capacity of their teachers through better conditions, more collaboration, and better professional development is just one scalable and tangible solution.
It was quite simply the most informed and engaging forum for this discussion in many years. My thanks to the Learning Policy Institute for organizing this so well!