Does the Independence School District Have a Teacher Shortage Problem?
The Independence School District (ISD) school board recently voted to move to a four-day school week. One of the stated purposes of the move is to increase teacher retention. This fits within the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) narrative that Missouri is in the midst of a devastating teacher shortage and that COVID-19 greatly exacerbated the shortage. (Never mind that some evidence suggests teachers’ rates of exiting the profession are in line with previous years.)
I believe that the topic of teacher shortages is an important policy issue that deserves careful attention, especially when the solutions to the supposed crisis may cost state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
To better understand the shortages, Show-Me Institute Research Assistant Avery Frank and I requested the data DESE uses to determine the level of shortages in Missouri. Each year, school districts report the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) vacancies they had in each certification area. They also report the number of applications for positions and whether the position was filled or left unfilled. Additionally, each school district rates its level of shortage in each area on a 1 to 5 scale. On this scale, a “1” is “considerable surplus” and “5” is “considerable shortage.”
We have begun to analyze these data and plan to release a more detailed state report. Given the move by the ISD, we believe it is important for parents and policymakers to have a better understanding of what a “shortage” of teachers looks like in Independence.
The data we received span from 2018 to 2021. Unfortunately, Independence is only present in the data in 2018 and 2020.
In Table 1, I present the number of FTE vacancies in 2018 and 2020 and the total number of applications. As you can see, the district received an average of 15.3 applications per vacancy in 2018 and 13.6 in 2020. This ranges from a low of one application for one school psychologist position (not a teaching position) in 2020 to a high of 172 applications for one secondary social studies position in 2018.
In Table 2, we present the number of certification areas rated 1–5 in each year. As you can see, a total of 10 areas were suggested to have some degree of shortage in each year.
When we asked DESE for a clarification on these rankings, this is what it provided:
Degree of Shortage–Perception of the supply of available teachers as compared with number of positions vacant. Valid entries are the numbers 1 through 5 using the descriptions below:
- Considerable Surplus–Many applicants available, inquiries received frequently.
- Some Surplus–More applicants than jobs, applicants easy to locate, inquiries received often.
- Balanced Supply–Adequate number of available applicants.
- Some Shortage–Fewer applicants than positions available.
- Considerable Shortage–Applicants very difficult to locate for available positions
Based on these definitions, it does not appear that ISD is reporting its shortages in a manner consistent with the DESE definitions (see Tables 3 and 4). In both years, ISD reported level 4 or 5 shortages in ten areas. Based on the DESE definition, “fewer applicants than positions available,” not one of these certification areas in the table below would qualify as a level 4 rating, let alone a level 5 rating.
In each year, just one position was left vacant. In 2018, the district did not fill one speech- language specialist position (not a classroom teaching position). In 2020, the district did not fill one secondary mathematics position. Given that the district had 42 applications for four openings, it is likely the position was not filled due to a purposeful decision on the part of administrators.
In total, the district had 76 vacancies over the course of these two years in areas deemed shortage areas. The district received a total of 463 applications for these positions, an average of 6.1 applications per vacancy.
Our data are of course limited, and we can only report on the data DESE provided to us. Of course, these are the data DESE uses to determine shortages. Nevertheless, it is possible the district has more data available, and we would be pleased to present those numbers as well.
Based on these numbers, what do you think? Does the ISD have a teacher shortage? And is that shortage severe enough to justify a move to a four-day school week?
12/21/22–Correction: The data we received from DESE contained information for the years 2018 to 2022. The Independence School District application and vacancy data were present the following years: 2018, 2020, and 2022. Once we received the data, we merged the vacancy data with district demographic data from DESE. Because we did not have 2022 district demographic data, the 2022 observations were dropped from the data set. We have now recovered those data and will post an update that includes the most recent numbers.