We are pleased that Governor Greg Abbott wants a task force to examine the reasons for a chronic teacher shortage in Texas and recommend policy changes. But if we’re really honest with ourselves, most of us already know some uncomfortable truths about this scarcity.
The shortage did not happen overnight and will not be resolved soon. The pace of progress comes down to collective statewide commitments to provide the resources needed to recruit and keep great teachers in the classroom. And that’s where state legislators and some school districts need to make up lost ground.
Nationally, more than 200,000 teachers leave the profession each year, nearly two in three of them for reasons other than retirement, according to the Learning Policy Institute. Public school teachers cite many reasons for leaving: poor pay and limited career prospects; lack of respect and support from managers, colleagues and parents; competition from private industry; stressful working conditions, including salaries linked to high-stakes student tests; and political interference in the curriculum.
As teachers leave, colleges of education and alternative certification programs are not filling the pipeline fast enough. And young teachers who left the profession after only a few years in the classroom often say they were unprepared for the challenges. While 11% of teachers in Texas districts in the 2020-2021 school year were new hires, about 9% of the teaching workforce did not return from the previous school year, according to the Texas Education Agency.
The University of Houston College of Education raises an important related point in a recent report on the teaching workforce. While alternative for-profit programs certify additional teachers, retention rates for these teachers are lower than retention rates for teachers who graduate from university programs.
The study also highlights pay issues. The average base salary in the 2018-19 school year was $1,241 less than in 2010-11, and in some parts of the state it dropped as low as $2,500. On average, a teacher with 10 years of experience earned $54,285 in 2010-11, up from $53,719 in 2018-19, the report said.
Salary is an issue, but Texas’ prosperity depends on effective strategies to fill the pipeline with quality teachers and remove the barriers that drive teachers out of the profession. We urge the task force to seriously examine how Texas funds education and the impact on teacher engagement and student achievement. Preparing students to enter college or secure well-paying jobs after high school requires a growing body of qualified teachers with adequate resources and support to do their job.