Lack of data makes it tough to measure true scope of teacher shortage
Much has been made about the teacher shortage across the country. The true scope of it in Northeast Ohio is hard to measure, in part because no one really is.
Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, said the shortage isn’t just a workforce problem; it’s a “data problem.”
There’s just no source to track data on openings at a state level — there’s federal data and there’s district-level data, but nothing state by state. That makes it tough to pinpoint the issue, he said, whether it’s a broad shortage across the industry or whether it’s impacting certain districts or subject areas more. What he’s seen is that high-poverty districts tended to have more challenges filling positions. And certain subject areas, like advanced science, have been tougher to fill.
“Knowing the answer to that question more definitively will help all of us come up with the best solutions to addressing that,” DiMauro said.
The Ohio Department of Education doesn’t track educator vacancies or retention, as it’s not required, Lacey Snoke, chief of communications and press secretary for the department, said in an email. Recruiting and hiring are responsibilities of local districts, she said, and they may track that individually.
The department does track and make public employment data for the state. According to information from the state Department of Education, the total number of teachers in Ohio has fluctuated in the past decade. In 2011, the state reported 109,045 full-time equivalent “teacher assignment” employees. In 2021, there were 100,271. But it wasn’t a straight drop over time. In fact, the 2021 figures are an increase from a low of 98,720 such employees in 2018.
And the number of employees in the state’s “Supplemental Service Teaching Assignment (Serves Students with Disability Conditions Only)” category increased in that time, from 5,712 in 2011 to 12,284 in 2012.
A recent story from The New York Times highlighted how much the teacher shortage varies by location — urban schools versus rural, but also by state. Districts and states are offering shorter weeks, easing requirements or raising salaries to entice members of the shrinking pool of educators to their schools.
DiMauro said a factor that might be muting the impact of fewer educators in Ohio, compared with some other states, is that the K-12 student population has been shrinking, too. In talking to his union’s members, DiMauro said he hadn’t heard that districts started the school year with more openings than normal.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t see cause for concern. He did hear that hiring was tougher, as candidate pools were smaller. Instead of one member getting 100 applicants for an opening, that administrator had to actively recruit for open positions, he said. Another member started going to job fairs. And the number of students in teacher educator programs has dropped in the last decade.
The Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio recently shared data that showed a small increase in teacher education program enrollment in Ohio in 2020, but numbers were far below what they had been in the early 2000s — about 10,000 fewer educators-in-training in 2020 than in 2004.
DiMauro noted that there’s a shortage of substitute teachers in many districts, too. And he doesn’t think the long-feared wave of teacher retirements has happened here yet, either. The last one was about a decade ago, after the Great Recession and around a restructuring of the pension system.
“It hasn’t completely caught up to us yet in terms of seeing massive numbers of openings, but given the trend in terms of … the declining number of people that are in teacher prep programs and the candidate pools, I think if we don’t pay attention to it and take some action now, it could really turn into a crisis situation in a year or two down the road,” DiMauro said.
In education, teachers are suffering from the same burnout born of the pandemic that many workers are, said Bishara Addison, director of job preparation at the Fund for Our Economic Future. They too had to balance work and caregiving or other personal responsibilities at the height of the pandemic. But teachers might be feeling “worse than the average worker,” she said.