Conflicting data points show complexities in the teacher labor market

Published: Sep. 2, 2022 at 7:03 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - State data shows the number of teachers in Iowa increased, while the number of students decreased since 2000. Meanwhile, districts said there’s an increase in resignations and fewer applicants for teaching positions.

Education researchers said conflicting data points, make it difficult to understand the severity of the teacher shortage in Iowa and across the United States. Those data points also allow officials and politicians to either overstate or under-emphasis the need for teachers.

Josh Bleiberg, who is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said he believes the need for teachers is a complex and contextual problem. He also said the lack of federal data makes it difficult to understand the need for teachers today compared to 10 years ago.

“It was a challenge today, it was a challenge 10 years ago,” Bleiberg said. “But is it worse today than it was 10 years ago? It’s impossible to know.”

Dan Goldhaber, who is a professor at the University of Washington, said individual school districts could also have unique challenges to hire people for specific fields. He also said the type of position, like a special education, could also determine the difficulty to hire a teacher.

“It’s much harder to staff classrooms with special education and STEM teachers than the elementary level,” Goldhaber said.

Teach Iowa shows there are close to 5,000 openings in school districts across the state. Around 1,000 openings contain the word “teacher”, but those also include teacher associate positions. Iowa’s Department of Education said there are 327 districts in the state, which is about 3.5 jobs per district with the word “teacher”.

John Cain, who is the superintendent for the South Tama County Community School District, said he’s still trying to hire 8 out of around 120 teacher positions the district employs. He said those open jobs force the district to offer fewer class options in social studies and it strains resources, like having fewer staff members to coach teachers.

“Even one position like if were short one special education teacher at the education level that puts strain on all the other special education teachers to increase their case load.”