As teacher shortages persist, districts look for creative solutions

Nearly nine in 10 public schools struggled to hire educators ahead of the 2023-24 school year, according to recent survey data from the National Center for Education Statistics. How are districts responding?

Nearly nine in 10 public schools struggled to hire educators ahead of the 2023-24 school year, according to recent survey data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The vacancies were most commonly found in some of your traditionally understaffed areas, including special education, science and foreign languages. Now that we’re halfway into the school year, we’re still seeing these shortages impact school districts across the country.

Like most school systems in the U.S., the Aldine Independent School District in Texas has started looking for alternative solutions to bolster its teaching workforce. For instance, they’ve started working with Teach USA, a program that connects international teachers with U.S. schools.

According to San Antonio Express-News, Aldine ISD has hired 76 teachers from more than a dozen countries through this program. Scott Dubberke, the district’s human resources director, said it’s helped them to fill positions for special education and bilingual elementary school classes with an even greater effect.

It’s “not just filling vacancies, but it also supports our kids,” he told San Antonio Express-News. “Our kids are not only learning but they’re learning from the culture of where these people are coming from.”

In North Dakota, the state’s Department of Public Instruction has awarded $3 million for a program that helps paraprofessionals become teachers. There are some 230 participants in the program across 60 school districts, The Dickinson Press reports.

The program provides participants with up to $20,000 that they can use to put toward earning a teaching degree through one of 10 online programs available through universities across North Dakota.

Gov. Doug Burgum also created a Teacher Retention and Recruitment Task Force, which met for the first time last month and aims to identify and address areas of improvement regarding teacher vacancies across the state.

“We’re deeply grateful to these members and all the candidates for their passion and willingness to dedicate their time to this critically important effort to address our state’s teacher shortage,” Burgum said in a statement. “Working together, we can identify best practices and policies for retaining and recruiting teachers and ensure they have the resources and support they need to deliver a world-class education to students across North Dakota.”

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In Montana, schools have been quick to adopt four-day work weeks in the hopes of recruiting and retaining teachers, a strategy that’s been growing in momentum in districts nationwide.

As the Montana Free Press reports, at least 222 schools had already adopted this model by the end of the 2022-23 school year. Montana ranks last in the country when it comes to average starting salaries for teachers, according to an annual report released last year from the National Education Association. A four-day school week is just one of the ways Montana education leaders aim to keep teachers in the profession despite the unattractiveness of teaching salaries.

Montana’s Roberts Public School has been operating using this model since 2015, soon after the arrival of its Superintendent Alex Ator. He told the Montana Free Press he believes it’s helped them stay afloat amid this persistent shortage of qualified teachers.

“When I first got to Roberts, I received a handful [of applicants] for a typical position, and my colleagues received a few dozen,” he told the Montana Free Press. “Now, I still receive a couple and some of my colleagues don’t receive any.”

However, some areas have yet to see major improvements concerning their teacher vacancies. Nebraska, for one, had more than 900 teaching positions go vacant or unfilled with a qualified educator for the 2023-24 school year, a new survey from the Nebraska Department of Education suggests. These numbers surpass the previous year’s 760 vacancies.

“There’s a coordinated effort going on between school districts, the Department of Education, higher education, even others in the workforce development area like our state chamber, who are certainly concerned about this particular topic,” NDE Commissioner Brian Maher said during a recent press conference.

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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