The Teacher Shortage Crisis

Academic InsightThe Teacher Shortage Crisis

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.”

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.

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A Crisis Many Years in the Making

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 force of approximately 3.7 million teachers. These projections predated the pandemic’s impact on teacher attrition.

Among all the 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-water mark of 255,106 nation-wide 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. The strains of the pandemic have only exacerbated this problem. According to an NEA survey, 28% of its membership reported that they are “more likely to retire early or leave the profession” because of COVID-19’s impact.

From Crisis to Catastrophe

Many years of dwindling teacher supply and sub-par 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 (plus the District of Columbia) reported teacher shortages in math during the 2015-16 school year, and 10% of schools nation-wide reported “serious difficulties filling mathematics and science 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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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.

To use Yup, students simply snap a photo of their math problem and connect to a tutor via a web browser or phone app. 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 to learn more about bringing Yup to your school or district.


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