Creating Coherence in the Teacher Shortage Debate: What Policymakers Should Know and Do

Ellen Sherratt

Recent media attention to teacher shortages in all but three U.S. states has raised significant concerns about our public school system’s capability to staff all classrooms. Often, the problem is framed as “severe” or a “crisis.” Meanwhile, others discredit the issue as “overblown” or “mythical.” The fact remains—many districts have grave concerns about teacher shortages and their detrimental effect on student learning.

The ResearchTeacher shortage report cover

Despite a saturation of research about why teachers leave the profession and the policy interventions that might convince them to stay, remarkably little research details the nature of teacher shortages—that is, how teacher shortages have been measured and framed over time, and how policy leaders have addressed them and to what effect. What we do know is that teacher shortages have been of great policy concern for decades, perhaps centuries, but clear-cut data depicting the problem have been hard to come by. Increasingly, states are stepping up their efforts to gather teacher supply-and-demand data to assess the severity of teacher shortages in their districts. But past efforts to report these data have too often painted a muddled picture of little use in policy dialogues and targeted policy development.


It’s time to take the national policy dialogue on teacher shortages to the next level—to bring together researchers, policy leaders, practitioners, teacher preparation programs, and other stakeholders to look afresh at old and new data, so future policy dialogues on the nature of teacher shortages can be better informed, and so more targeted and impactful interventions can be developed to rectify teacher shortages where they exist. This brief provides a roadmap for policy leaders to make that happen.