Is There Really a Teacher Shortage in NJ? Let’s All Take a Deep Breath

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Major media is ablaze with dire predictions about imminent teacher shortages due to pandemic stress and burn-out. Certainly, teachers have had a rough time juggling remote instruction, in-school learning, and caring for their own families during a seemingly endless pandemic. They’re starting a new year with students who have varying degrees of learning loss; JerseyCAN says low-income students lost 40% of expected learning over the last year in reading and 43% in math. It’s hard to think of tougher circumstances. But just how bad is the teacher shortage in New Jersey this year?

Fact: We have no idea. While there has been a dearth of special education and high school STEM teachers for years, the Department of Education doesn’t collect the data. (A bill sponsored by Senator Teresa Ruiz, which would require the DOE to collect and share the information, passed the Senate but is stalled in the Assembly.) We do know that 4,476 teachers retired between August 2020 and August 2021 and, while that’s more than last year, it’s less that three years ago.

Yet the lack of firm data isn’t stopping alarm bells from ringing in the media. The NJ Monitor shrieks, “Long-standing teacher shortages could hamper learning gains.” The Star-Ledger warns, “Amid a teacher shortage and COVID, this is how NJ is training future educators” and “There’s a teacher shortage and hard-to-fill positions remain open at NJ schools.” 101.5 blares, Teacher shortages in NJ — COVID-19 likely playing a role in 2021.” (In a refreshing example of sobriety, Politico notes that some NJ districts are actually laying off teachers.)

So, which is it? Is there really an unprecedented teacher shortage in New Jersey? Sure, there is definitive evidence that we lack enough bus drivers and substitute teachers. We badly lack Black teachers, essential to the academic growth of Black students. Some districts –Newark, for example –clearly have shortages, although  historically teachers leave there at sky-high rates, 15% per year pre-COVID. (Via Chalkbeat: “When Madison Upshaw showed up to her forensic science class at Newark’s Barringer High School on the first day of school, she found an athletic coach at the front of the room. “He was like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna be your sub for the whole year,’” the 12th-grader said. “I guess they can’t find anybody.”)

In the meantime we’d all be best served by reining in the histrionics.

Here, Chad Aldeman, Policy Director at Georgetown’s Edunomics Lab, sets us straight with one particular example:

 

 

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