Despite drops in the number of students pursuing teaching degrees, there’s no such thing as a national “teacher” shortage. That’s because districts don’t need to hire generic “teachers.” Instead, they need to hire teachers with specific licenses to fit specific roles in their schools, like elementary bilingual and dual language instruction, or middle school social studies, or high school biology.
Each of these areas has a different balance between supply and demand. For example, in Illinois we found that the state is licensing about 12 social studies teachers for every one that gets hired in the state. In contrast, for every three special education teachers the state produces, two find jobs.
In short, we have chronic teacher shortages in some fields, and a huge over-supply in others. And addressing specific shortage areas calls for targeted policy solutions.
That’s exactly what Georgia did. Their math and science teachers were leaving the state’s classrooms at higher rates than other teachers, so in 2010 they began paying them more money. Any math and science teacher in grades K-5 qualified for an annual $1,000 stipend, and new math and science teachers in grades 6-12 were paid as if they were six-year veteran teachers (that qualified them for bonuses worth $2,500 to $4,500, or 7-14 percent of their base salary).
The extra money paid off. According to a new working study* by Carycruz Bueno and Tim R. Sass, the pay incentives cut math and science teacher turnover rates by 35 percent. The graph below shows what this looks like. The blue line represents the cumulative retention rates of math and science teachers who were not eligible for the bonuses (they may not have had full certification or entered the profession before the program began). The red line represents teachers who did qualify for the bonuses. As the graph shows, teachers who received the extra financial support were much more likely to stay as teachers. The gaps did not close even when the bonuses ended after five years, which suggests that the money had both short- and long-term benefits in terms of retaining math and science teachers.
Other states and school districts could easily replicate Georgia’s success. But first, they’d have to acknowledge there are unique challenges in attracting and retaining different types of teachers and that there’s no generic national teacher shortage.
*Sass and Bueno also presented their findings at a recent CALDER conference. Their presentation can be downloaded here.