“The teacher shortage is not a mass exodus story. There’s variation,” said Desiree Carver-Thomas, researcher and policy analyst for the Learning Policy Institute, who’s studied the issue. “But there are very significant shortages in some districts, and that’s having a big impact on students.”
In Santa Ana Unified, for example, where almost 90% of students come from lower-income families, the district reported 52 teacher vacancies last week, with almost half in special education, a notoriously hard-to-staff division. That may seem insignificant for a district that has more than 2,300 teachers on the payroll, but those vacancies have left district leaders scrambling. If they can’t find enough substitutes, the district plans to reassign those students to other classes.
It’s not that Santa Ana isn’t trying. So far, they’ve hired 75 teachers for the 2022-23 school year, in addition to 318 teachers they hired last year.
“Santa Ana Unified continues to experience the same, if not greater, shortage of applicants for both certificated and classified positions,” district spokesperson Fermin Leal said, noting the tight competition among neighboring districts to recruit and hire teachers quickly. “We are proud of all the applicants who have chosen and who do choose to work with SAUSD.”
Long Beach Unified, where more than 66% of students come from lower-income families, also reported a severe teacher shortage. Even after hiring 277 teachers over the summer, the district still has 45 vacancies. Oakland Unified, which has about 20,000 fewer students than Long Beach, has 34 vacancies after a hiring binge of 474 teachers.
A nationwide problem
The teacher shortage is not unique to California — in fact, California isn’t even among the most affected, according to research from Brown University’s Annenberg Institute. Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Kansas and numerous other states all face dire shortages as the school year begins, according to the report. Teachers everywhere have been quitting, sometimes even in the middle of the school year, citing the stress of working through COVID, an uptick in student misbehavior after the return to in-person classes and a lack of respect from parents, among other complaints. A February survey by the National Education Association teachers union found that 55% were seriously considering leaving their jobs.
Combined with new funding to expand staff, many districts have been left with greater-than-expected hiring needs. And those subjects that were difficult to staff even before the pandemic — such as special education, bilingual education, math and science — are even more affected now.