As this school year is well underway, Indiana is part of the national trend of school districts wrestling with a teacher shortage made worse by COVID.
The Indiana Department of Education currently lists more than 1,500 teacher job vacancies and another 700 support positions vacant statewide.
Economists point to the gap between what teachers are paid compared to their peers with similar education. Economic Policy Institute research said in 1979, teachers made 7% less than those peers, but this year, the pay gap has grown to 23%, a record high.
Heidi Shierholz, president of the Economic Policy Institute, citing 300,000 public education vacancies nationwide, said the issue boils down to two factors.
“What’s happening is that it’s becoming more and more difficult to find teachers, and other education personnel, who will take those jobs under current working conditions and at current wages,” Shierholz observed.
According to the National Education Association, Indiana teacher pay ranked 42nd in the nation in the last school year, and since 2011, pay has declined by 10% in constant dollar terms.
The American Federation of Teachers released a report in July with recommendations to fix the teacher shortage. They include reducing the focus on standardized testing, reducing paperwork, lowering class size, and providing living wages for teachers and paraprofessionals.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said while the profession was never especially well paid, the joys of teaching once outweighed the negatives.
“What we used to have is a lot more intrinsic joy about teaching and learning,” Weingarten recounted. “A lot of that changed in the No Child Left Behind, ‘no test was bad’ kind of process, that made us fixate on tests as opposed to fixating on children.”
The Learning Policy Institute reported in Finland and Singapore, around 4% of teachers leave the profession annually, mainly to retire. In the U.S., the teacher attrition rate is about 8% a year, with two-thirds leaving for reasons other than retirement, up from about 5% in the 1990s.