The risk of a teacher shortage in Texas has drawn significant media and political attention recently, and with student assessments indicating significant learning loss due to the COVID pandemic, state leaders are right to pay close attention to factors that can impact student outcomes. We commend the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for bringing together educators to evaluate the staffing issues Texas schools are facing and find a data-driven approach to the varying needs across the state.
To better understand the scope of Texas’ teacher shortage, we looked closely at the publicly available data. What we found is ambiguous, at best. That said, it’s May. The full scope of the issue may not be clear until contracts for the next school year are signed this summer, and there is certainly some early data that shows a credible basis for future concern.
In terms of hard data, here’s what we know:
- There are more teachers employed in Texas than ever before in the state’s history.
On April 26, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath testified that Texas hit a record high for the number of employed teachers this school year.
Even adjusting for student enrollment, the statewide student-teacher ratio for 2021-2022 is 15:1. TEA recently released a historical comparison for this ratio, and – despite this school year’s turnover – Texas still has one of its lowest student-teacher ratios in recent history. Compare this to a national average of 16:1. Of course, this is a statewide number, and individual schools and districts may be experiencing issues that can get masked at this level. Still, it is instructive.
and PEIMS Student Enrollment Reports
- Teacher turnover is up this year but isn’t far off pre-pandemic levels.
At 11.57% for School Year 2021-22, teacher turnover definitely appears to be trending upward. But perspective here is relevant. For much of the 2010s, turnover hovered between 10.5-11%, dropping in school year 20-21 to 9.34%. So the year-over-year increase to 11.57% in a tight labor market may be causing a crunch, but it is still only 1.14% greater than 2018-19 numbers. And some portion of that may represent departures that would otherwise have happened during the pandemic years under normal turnover circumstances. Again, these numbers do not account for potential future turnover this summer.
- Teacher hiring may be the greater challenge
With the obvious caveat that every teacher that doesn’t leave is a teacher that doesn’t need to be replaced, one concerning trend emerging in the data is a shrinking gap between departing teachers and new hires. Since the 2011-2012 school year, hiring has consistently exceeded prior-year attrition by large margins. However, for the 2021-2022 school year, new hires only exceeded prior-year attrition by 134 teachers.
This points to a potentially-concerning trend: the inability to attract talent to fill jobs, which will require a different set of policy considerations to ensure that standards are not reduced and all students still are taught by a well-trained and qualified instructor.
The State Board of Educator Certification began the work to improve teacher preparation in 2019 with the launch of the edTPA pilot. Many teachers feel unprepared for their first years in the classroom. This may be a contributing factor to high teacher turnover in the early years and have a negative effect on students, especially economically-disadvantaged students who are most likely to have a first-year teacher.
This trend appears to exist across the nation. Chad Aldeman of the Georgetown University Edunomics Lab recently analyzed a similar trend across all public education employees, not just teachers. Rather than the traditional turnover discourse, the “bigger story” according to Aldeman, is the growing gap between open positions and schools’ ability to hire.
What We Don’t Yet Know: Summer Turnover
While the hard data points to a mixed picture for now, polling data enumerates the anecdotal risks facing Texas schools as they prepare to sign contracts with teachers for the next school year. This February, Texas 2036 surveyed 247 Texas teachers on their positions on a variety of issues, including whether they were considering leaving the teaching profession before the next school year. The results can be read either with optimism or trepidation.
While only 4% of the teachers in this survey were definitively not planning to teach next year, 21% were actively exploring other opportunities outside of education. If all of the “actively exploring” crowd were successful, a full 25% attrition rate would massively disrupt public education in Texas.
So while the hard data doesn’t yet show a catastrophic story, it’s important to check back as new data emerges to make sure our schools and students have access to the high-quality educators that will power our COVID educational recovery. It’s also important to continue pursuing data-driven strategies that keep our best teachers in the classroom, like the Teacher Incentive Allotment established with the historic school finance reforms passed in 2019 and the recently announced allocation of $435 million in federal COVID relief funding to combat the rising costs of TRS ActiveCare and prevent insurance premium increases.