October 19, 2023

Steve Nuzum: Yet Another Report Tells Us What Teachers Have Been Saying for Decades

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Steve Nuzum looks at the reporting saying that maybe there’s a teaching crisis after all.

As the 2022-23 school year kicks into high gear, it appears that journalists and pundits have suddenly realized what was obvious to most people in the education profession already: we are in an unprecedented, serious, and potentially catastrophic crisis involving the recruitment and retention of willing teachers and other educational staff.

Just last summer, some researchers were saying the crisis was “overstated.” According to a Hechinger Report from last August,

“Among researchers, I think we’ve reached a consensus that there hasn’t been an exodus of teachers during the pandemic,” said Heather Schwartz, a researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization, which regularly surveys school districts around the country about their staffing. “I don’t see many district leaders saying we have a serious, severe shortage of teachers. I don’t see the crisis.”

But a year later, as Anne Lutz Fernandez points out, the same foundation contributed to a report showing the opposite:

  • “Staffing shortages posed a key challenge to implementing recovery programs.”
  • “Some school systems used a portion of their federal recovery funds to ease teacher labor market pressures by offering signing and retention bonuses, but these measures often didn’t work. Teachers continued to leave, school system leaders said, often in the middle of the year.”
  • “This leader, like others we interviewed, described the challenges they encountered trying provide professional learning to teachers starting in 2021-22 school, mostly due to a shortage of substitute teachers to cover classrooms so teachers could attend learning sessions.”

South Carolina’s Proviso 1.114 (part of of the 2022–23 budget act), required the creation of a “task force” to analyze and offer recommendations on the state’s own teacher retention and recruitment crisis. Through a series of public input sessions, the task force listened to teachers, librarians, and other educators, as well as members of the general public, and researched what other states were doing to address their own issues.

It also conducted a survey of employees (which sadly only received 176 responses). While the survey is publicly available, I’m not going to share it here because the taskforce took the step, unfortunate in retrospect, of publishing it with names and other identifying information of participants revealed. As demonstrated by SC Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver’s retaliation against the South Carolina Association of School Librarians, which she attributed explicitly, in part, to responses members of the association gave during these public comment sessions, sharing the names may lead to further retaliation. (Sadly and ironically, much of the testimony Weaver singled out for criticism reported the harassment of librarians and school personnel by both members of the public and by elected public officials.)

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