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Policy Proposals

Understanding and Addressing Teacher Shortages in the United States

April 26, 2017


In recent years, accounts of school districts having difficulties hiring teachers have proliferated. However, there is little evidence to suggest the existence of a pervasive, nationwide teacher shortage. Teacher shortages are specific to certain places and hard-to-staff subjects, demanding a similarly targeted policy response.


The paper proposes complementary strategies—to be implemented by school districts and state regulators—aimed at mitigating specific teacher shortages and improving the flexibility of teacher labor markets. Proposals for K-12 school districts include targeted financial incentives, more aggressive hiring practices, and judicious use of student teaching slots. For state regulatory authorities, proposals include increased use of alternative licensure pathways, meaningful licensure reciprocity, and more information provided to teacher candidates.


While anecdotal accounts of substantial teacher shortages are increasingly common, we present evidence that such shortages are not a general phenomenon but rather are highly concentrated by subject (e.g., mathematics, science, and special education) and in schools (e.g., those serving disadvantaged students) where hiring and retaining teachers are chronic problems. The authors discuss several promising, complementary approaches for addressing teacher shortages.