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Math Teacher Shortage Crisis: Insight and Possible Solutions

Academic InsightMath Teacher Shortage Crisis: Insight and Possible Solutions

October 14, 2021

“I think we are in a critical situation,” said Joe Siano, Superintendent of Schools in Norman, Oklahoma, as he discussed the teacher shortage crisis in his district during a 2015 interview. “I liken it to showing up to the emergency room with a life-threatening issue.

Jack Arend, a Principal in Washington state echoed the same concerns: "We are now hiring emergency substitutes where the qualifications are that you pass a fingerprint check and hopefully have a college degree, but it's not required.”

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Math Teacher Shortage: A Crisis Many Years in the Making

These administrators and many more were sounding the alarms long before the COVID-19 pandemic jolted the education landscape, turning a teacher shortage crisis into a catastrophe for many districts across the country. And while the pandemic promises to pass, years of data on teacher training and retention reveal that the teacher shortage crisis is not going away any time soon.

A 2016 study by the Learning Policy Institute discovered a shortage of approximately 64,000 teachers nationwide.

Their analysis of factors related to supply (increasing attrition rates in the profession alongside decreasing enrollment rates in teacher preparation programs) and demand (rising student enrollment) led them to project a shortage of 316,000 teachers by 2025, a projection that would represent more than 8% of the present teaching workforce of approximately 3.7 million teachers.

These projections predated the pandemic’s impact on teacher attrition.

Among all factors, the dramatic dip in enrollment numbers for teacher preparation programs may be most concerning for those imagining how they will staff their schools in the years to come.

In 2019, the Center for American Progress reported an alarming drop in the number of students completing teacher preparation programs, from a high mark of 255,106 nationwide in 2005 all the way down to 159,937 in 2019. That’s nearly a 40% tumble over just 14 years!

Beyond such dramatic teacher pipeline concerns is the persistent problem of teacher retention.

The same Learning Policy Institute study cited above found annual attrition rates of about 8% back in 2016, about twice the rate when compared with some of the most effective school systems in the world, such as Finland and Singapore.

From Crisis to Catastrophe

Many years of dwindling supply and sub-par teacher retention have combined with the challenges of the pandemic to create critical problems for learners. As schools have opened across the country this fall, many simply did not have enough teachers.

Students are contending with larger class sizes or unqualified substitutes, according to an Associated Press Report, while some districts have experimented with hiring out-of-state teachers to instruct by videoconference, and others have simply shut their doors and returned to a remote model.

“It doesn’t feel like there are enough adults on these campuses to keep kids really safe,” said Hasmig Minassian, a ninth-grade teacher at Berkeley High School in California. “We feel short-staffed in a way we’ve never felt before.”

Math Staffing Struggles the Most

It can be tempting to attribute the current staffing problems to the pandemic, but the data trend lines show that the present crisis is not a temporary phenomenon. And nowhere are the problems more acute than in math departments.

The Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators’ Emerging Issues Committee noted that 42 states with math teacher shortages (plus the District of Columbia) reported these shortages during the 2015–16 school year, and 10% of schools nationwide reported “serious difficulties filling mathematics and science teacher vacancies.”

Moreover, math teachers have been leaving the profession at greater rates when compared with humanities teachers and general elementary teachers.

All in all, Frontline Education’s 2021 survey reveals that staffing shortages in secondary math represent the third-leading shortage category, behind only Special Education and substitute teacher staffing.

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Why Is There a Shortage of Math Teachers?

The math teacher shortage crisis can be traced back to a variety of worrisome trends.

Let’s dial in on three of the most widespread forces driving this pervasive challenge in education.

1. Fewer People Are Becoming Teachers

Enrollment in teacher preparation and certification courses has been declining since 2010.

Rising university tuition and poor teacher pay have led many would-be teachers to choose alternative career paths that offer more competitive compensation than the teacher labor market offers.

After shrinking by a third (or more in rural areas) between 2010 and 2018, enrollment in undergraduate teacher training courses slid by an additional 6.6% across the board and over 14% at community colleges between 2019 and 2022.

2. Federal Funding Is Driving Demand

School districts facing an increased need for student support have been attempting to use federal relief funds to fill vacant roles in critical teaching positions.

As educational circumstances worsened across the country, demand for experienced teachers in tough subjects like math and science began to rapidly outpace supply.

3. Retirement Is Up, Retention Is Down 

A survey carried out by the National Education Association found 55% of teachers are planning to leave education sooner than they had previously expected.

86% of educators reported a noticeable uptick in early retirement and peers leaving the profession. Citing widespread burnout and ever increasing workloads, the number of experienced teachers left behind has continued to dwindle, further stressing school districts across the country.

Impact of Math Teacher Shortage on Student Learning

We now know the answer to the question, “Is there a math teacher shortage?” is undoubtedly “yes”.

As we’ve all unfortunately learned during the course of the pandemic, disruptions to established educational routines can significantly impact student learning.

High rates of teacher turnover have also been linked to decreased student success and achievement, particularly in school districts with high rates of poverty and/or a majority-minority student body.

High-minority, high-poverty school districts in economically challenged areas have four times as many uncertified and underqualified teachers in the classroom compared to low-minority, low-poverty schools, further exacerbating existing educational disparities.

A study that examined 850,000 fourth- and fifth-graders in New York found that math achievement was lower over an eight-year period among students that went to schools with high rates of teacher turnover.

How to Solve the Math Teacher Shortage

Solving the math teacher shortage is as necessary as it will be challenging.

The issues facing education as a career path are numerous, and it will take significant policy and cultural changes to rectify each of them.

However, there are four strategies every school district administrator can pursue to plug the gaps and begin slowing teacher attrition and driving recruitment success.

Get Serious About Teacher Working Conditions

Burnout is one of the most cited forces behind qualified teachers looking for employment outside of education.

Administrators can support healthier working environments that reduce burnout by:

  • Addressing learning loss
  • Improving tutoring and remedial support systems
  • Engaging students’ families and the local community
  • Enhancing remote and blended learning experiences
  • And supporting the emotional and social well-being of teachers and students

Take Advantage of High-Dosage Tutoring  

Increased learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has added to overburdened teachers’ workloads and led to frustratingly lower rates of student achievement and success.

With school districts already understaffed due to the teacher labor market, addressing these additional challenges has become increasingly untenable for burned-out staff.

High-Dosage Tutoring (a system that utilizes 3–5 specialized one-on-one or small group tutoring sessions each week) has been demonstrated to support:

  • Rapid skill attainment
  • Persistent and long-term learning progress
  • And accelerated learning in math

Besides enhancing student success, High-Dosage Tutoring also supports teachers’ efforts to have a positive impact on students by stimulating learning, growth, and progress without adding to their workload.

Our High-Dosage Tutoring system is designed to be easily integrated into regular classroom activities, allowing our expert tutors to increase one-on-one student attention and free up teachers for other crucial classroom tasks and responsibilities.

Set Educators Up For Success With Strong Support Systems 

Math teachers facing increased learning loss and declining test scores in understaffed school districts need external teaching support systems to improve student success (without contributing to worsening teacher burnout.)

School districts facing a shortage of math teachers can use tutoring and supplemental support systems to provide their students with access to knowledgeable and experienced tutors that supplement and support classroom learning experiences.

Beyond improving math skills and conceptual mastery, providing strong educational support systems also supports the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of our nation’s math teachers.

Burnout and demoralization are higher among teachers than ever, with many pointing to a lack of administrative support and teaching anxieties as significant drivers of these performance and tenure-killing mental states.

Use Yup to Support Students 

As schools navigate the challenges of staffing shortages, it’s imperative that students get the support they need to move their math skills forward. There will not be a silver bullet to solve the teacher shortage crisis, but for math classrooms, Yup’s Math Learning Support System stands to serve as part of the solution.

Yup provides a high volume of qualified tutors in one of the hardest to staff positions. Many districts have found it helpful to bring Yup into their math classrooms, allowing students to access Yup’s expert tutors during class just as they would outside of school hours.

How Yup Works (3 Easy Steps)

  1. To use Yup, students simply snap a photo of their math problem.
  2. Students connect to a tutor via a web browser or phone app.
  3. In less than 30 seconds, the tutor and student start solving the problem together.

Yup tutors balance questioning and explanation to ensure long-term, conceptual understanding while making students feel heard and supported. At a time when schools are struggling to find enough help, some extra support from Yup could be just what students need to keep pace.

Administrators: See how Yup’s services accelerate Math learning. Yup will collaborate with leadership teams to integrate High Dosage Tutoring into the school day and curriculum.

Teachers: Check out what other educators are saying about Yup.

Contact partnerships@yup.com to learn more about bringing Yup to your school or district.


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