Guest Editorials, Opinion

Does Texas have a solution to its teacher shortages?

We are pleased that Gov. Greg Abbott wants a task force to examine the reasons behind a chronic shortage of teachers in Texas and to recommend policy changes. But if we’re truly honest with ourselves, most of us already know a few uncomfortable truths about this shortage.

The shortage didn’t occur overnight, nor will it be remedied quickly. The pace of progress comes down to collective commitments statewide to provide the resources to recruit and keep good teachers in the classroom. And that is where state lawmakers and some school districts have to make up for lost ground.

Nationally, more than 200,000 teachers leave the profession each year, with nearly two out of three leaving for reasons other than retirement, according to the Learning Policy Institute. Public school teachers cite many reasons for departing: poor pay and limited career paths; lack of respect and support from principals, colleagues and parents; competition from private industry; stressful working conditions, including salaries tied to high-stakes student testing; and political meddling with curriculum.

As teachers leave, teaching colleges and alternative certification programs aren’t refilling the pipeline fast enough. And young teachers who have left the profession after just a few years in the classroom often say that they weren’t prepared to deal with the challenges. While 11% of the teachers in Texas districts in the 2020-21 school year were new hires, about 9% of the teacher workforce didn’t return from the previous school year, according to the Texas Education Agency.

The University of Houston’s College of Education makes an important related point in a recent teacher workforce report. While for-profit alternative programs are certifying additional teachers, the retention rates of those teachers are lower than the retention rates of teachers who graduated from university programs.

The study also highlights pay issues. Average base pay in the 2018-19 school year was $1,241 less than it was in 2010-11, and in certain parts of the state, fell by as much as $2,500. On average, a teacher with 10 years of experience made $54,285 in 2010-2011 compared with $53,719 in 2018-19, the report also found.

Pay is one issue, but Texas’ prosperity depends on effective strategies to refill the pipeline with quality teachers and remove obstacles that chase teachers from the profession. We urge the task force to take a serious look at how Texas finances education and the impact on teacher commitment and student achievement. Preparing students to enter college or obtain a decent-paying job after high school requires an expanding workforce of qualified teachers with adequate resources and support to do their jobs.

This editorial  first appeared in The Dallas Morning News on Friday. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.