America faces a “catastrophic” teacher shortage, according to the Washington Post; schools “across the US” are facing shortages, declared a Fox News banner; it’s “like dog-eat-dog” when scrambling to hire teachers, claimed the Wall Street Journal.
Some of the hysteria might stem from teacher surveys.
74% of educators were dissatisfied with their jobs in June, according to a survey by the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest teachers’ union.
In February, a survey by the National Education Association, America’s largest labour union, estimated that 55% of teachers were considering leaving.
But there is a difference between intending to leave and actually doing so.
Nor national consensus on how to define a teacher shortage.
A school may have enough teachers for each pupil, but is it experiencing a teacher shortage if it cannot find one for a new music course?
If an administrator is teaching one class, is that a shortage or is the administrator simply doing her job?
Is a district in trouble if it is unable to staff 3% of its positions? How about 1%?
The narrative of shortage is politically expedient for education activists on both sides.
Democrats, whose supporters favour spending more on public schools than Republicans, point to massive teaching shortages as proof that public schools are underfunded.
“The problem is that we don’t invest in our workforce,” says Cecily Myart-Cruz, the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a labour union.
“You have the most educated workforce in the nation.
Educators have the most advanced degree, but they cannot have a liveable wage.”
This week, teachers in Columbus, Ohio, went on strike for better working conditions.
School workers in Philadelphia may strike next week.
But conservatives use the nationwide narrative for their own purposes, too.
Their point to the supposed shortage is proof that the entire state-school system is failing.
They push for lowering teaching-certification standards and removing teachers’ unions.
And they say privatisation provides an answer.
“We need to stop throwing good money after bad and rethink K-12 education,” says Keri Ingraham and Christos Makridis of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tank, in a commentary for the Washington Times.
“With the teacher shortage crisis at hand, there is a timely opportunity to adjust the system.”
In truth, the schools that are currently struggling to hire teachers are the usual suspects.
Nationwide, public schools are doing quite well: most pupils will have a teacher, and overall family satisfaction with their child’s school will probably stay high this year as in past years.
The problems remain where the problems tend to exist -- in the underfunded schools serving the neediest pupils.