There is no singular reason for the educator shortage, but rather several influencing factors that have been driving talent away from the profession—even before the pandemic. Our research identified the following conditions that are key contributors to the widening educator talent gap.
A top concern among educators is burnout, with 90% saying that it is a very or somewhat serious issue. More than half (55%) of educators said that pandemic-related burnout has made them more likely to retire or leave education earlier than they have planned—that’s nearly double the percentage who said the same in July 2020.
The highest number of school shootings, 34, occurred in 2021. There were 10 shootings in 2020, and 24 each in 2019 and 2018.2 At least 554 children, educators, and staff have been victims of school shootings since 1999.3 And while school shootings understandably generate headlines, teachers have other reasons to fear for their own safety. 37% of teachers in a 2020 poll feared for their own safety; fighting among students, physical bullying, gun violence, and online bullying are the safety issues of greatest concern.4
1 https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/survey-alarming-number-educators-may-soon-leave-profession 2 https://www.npr.org/2022/05/24/1101050970/2022-school-shootings-so-far 3 https://www.insider.com/school-shooting-554-victims-since-columbine-high-report-2022-5 4 https://e4e.org/sites/default/files/voices_from_the_classroom_2020.pdf
Subpar compensation has long been a challenge to talent attraction and retention, but today’s educators are questioning if the ability to make a difference is worth it anymore. Of teachers who voluntarily left the profession, one-third were holding second jobs while teaching, and 64% said that their pay was not sufficient to merit the risk or the stress of teaching.5 While some districts have responded to the educator shortage with modest pay raises, these increases aren’t keeping pace with rising inflation and costs of living across the country.
Nearly half of all educators took out student loans to pay for college. The average educator owes $58,700, while one in seven owe more than $105,000. Young educators are seeing the most severe impact, as two-thirds of those under 35 had to take out loans, compared to 27% of their peers ages 61 and over. However, more than one in four educators over 61 are still paying off student loans. There is also a disproportionate impact on teachers of color. More than half of Black educators (56%) took out student loans—with an average initial amount of $68,300.
Nearly half of all educators took out student loans to pay for college. The average educator owes $58,700, while one in seven owe more than $105,000.
5 https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/blog/teacher-shortage-what-can-states-and-districts-do 6 https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/depth-educators-college-debt
Enrollment and graduation in teacher preparation programs has been steadily declining for the past decade, and the pandemic has likely made things worse.
A report from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education found that the number of bachelor’s degrees conferred in education declined by 22% between 2005-06 and 2018-19. At the same time, the total number of bachelor’s degrees conferred in all fields rose by 29%.
Between the 2008-09 and the 2018-19 academic years, the number of people completing a teacher-education program declined by almost a third. And while traditional teacher-preparation programs saw the largest decline at 35%, alternative programs experienced drops as well.
An analysis of 2018 enrollment data found that enrollment declines were widespread geographically. Nationally, one-third fewer students enrolled in teacher preparation programs in 2018 than in 2010; only five states—Utah, Arizona, Washington, Texas, and Nevada—experienced increases in teacher prep enrollments. Nine states saw declines of more than 50%.
Of those who do pursue teacher preparation programs, many are not completing specialties in high-needs areas where educator shortages are most pronounced, such as special education, bilingual education, science, and math. Elementary education remains the most popular specialty for prospective teachers, covering 40% of all program completers.
It’s clear there are many complex factors that are influencing and worsening the educator shortage, and the decision to exit the profession is deeply personal and difficult for many educators. At the same time, there is qualified talent who want to make a difference in education, but ultimately do not pursue the profession for some of these reasons. Reversing the educator shortage will require not one, but several innovative solutions that improve the working conditions, compensation, financial stability, and safety of educators—while incenting and motivating the next generation of teacher and school staff to pursue their passion.
While we know the factors that are driving the educator shortage, what is less clear is just how broad and deep today’s educator shortage actually is. Indicators such as reported subject area vacancies and anecdotal testimonies from district and school leaders help paint a picture of the current state of the educator labor market. But as researchers from the Economic Policy Institute have noted, many teachers’ and school staff wages are negotiated through a lengthy contracting process—therefore insulating them, to an extent, from market pressures. And due to the localized, fragmented nature of America’s PK-12 education system, it is difficult to directly measure the need for educators at any given point in time.8
That said, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) provides data that can be useful in understanding not only the current state of the shortage, but also in forecasting just how pronounced the talent gap will be if America proceeds with business as usual.
For this Kelly Education analysis, we analyzed JOLTS data for public school educators (categorized by the BLS as state and local education industry workers), as well as private and other training and instruction service providers (categorized by the BLS in the educational services industry).
As of 2021, the most recent year in which a complete data set is available, the average monthly number of education-related job openings in the United States was 473,000, while the average monthly number of education-related hires was 280,000—leaving an average of 193,000 available positions unfilled that year.
With two complete years of pandemic-era labor market data available, we can also leverage JOLTS data to project educator supply and demand in the future—factoring in the adverse impacts of the global health crisis on teacher and school staff attraction and retention.
Our five-year analysis shows that the number of job openings in both public education and education services has increased by 112%, while the number of hires has increased by 21%.
What’s more, after calculating and applying the five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of openings and hires through 2025, our projections show that by the midpoint of this decade—in just three years—the educator shortage will more than double from 2021 levels, unless widespread and intentional policy and practice change is enacted.
Our analysis finds that—if conditions are left unchecked and unchanged—the average number of education-related job openings will swell to 854,000, while the average number of education-related hires will grow to just 336,000. That’s a talent gap of 518,000 educators—or one teacher or school staff member missing for every 100 school-aged children.9
This data should be a siren call for anyone who cares about the future of America’s children and economy.
At Kelly Education, we believe that every student, in every school and every community, deserves to have effective, qualified, and caring educators to help guide their academic, social, and emotional development.
The good news is, there is broad and bipartisan consensus that the American education system is at a tipping point, and urgent action must be taken now to address the educator shortage and ensure all children have equitable access to caring and competent professionals who prepare them for success in school and life.