Math Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the US

One of the most striking recent policy issues affecting mathematics teacher education is that of teacher shortages–in particular, shortages in specific areas such as mathematics. The website for the Learning Policy Institute contains several very informative documents regarding teacher shortages. The Emerging Issues Committee extracted information from these reports that might be of use to members who are looking for substantiated data and arguments on the nature of teacher shortages. Although the documents we reviewed are concerned with teacher shortages in general, we have noted particular references to mathematics teacher shortages. Members can consult the documents for additional context for the arguments.

The following quotes come from Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the US. Retrieved from October 30, 2016.

What drives teacher shortages?

 “Based on the evidence available, the emerging teacher shortage is driven by four main factors:

  • A decline in teacher preparation enrollments,
  • District efforts to return to pre-recession pupil-teacher ratios (Districts are looking to reinstate classes and programs that were cut or reduced during the Great Recession. It would require hiring an additional 145,000 teachers.),
  • Increasing student enrollment (NCES predicts the school-going population will increase by roughly 3 million students in the next decade.), and
  • High teacher attrition (nearly 8% of the workforce annually. The teaching workforce continues to be a leaky bucket, losing hundreds of thousands of teachers each year—the majority of them before retirement age.).” (pp. 1 & 2)

How intense are teacher shortages in mathematics?

“States across the country are currently experiencing subject area teacher shortages. In the 2015–16 school year, … 42 states and the District of Columbia reported shortages in mathematics.” (p. 5)

“In 2014–15, the AAEE survey found that teacher preparation programs as well as school districts reported ‘considerable’ or ‘some’ shortage in mathematics and every science subject listed (chemistry, biology, earth/physical science, physics)…. In 2014–15, the AAEE survey found that teacher preparation programs as well as school districts reported ‘considerable’ or ‘some’ shortage in mathematics and every science subject listed (chemistry, biology, earth/physical science, physics).” (p. 11)

“California’s recent teacher shortages led to a tripling in the number of emergency and temporary permits in the last three years. …Permits to underprepared teachers were most plentiful in special education, mathematics, and science, and in schools serving concentrations of low-income and minority students.” (p. 12)

“Looking at the Title II teacher education completer data from the last two years available (2011–12 and 2012–13), there was a decrease in new teacher entrants in almost every subject area, including those with perennial shortages, such as mathematics and science.  More recent data from California continued to show ongoing declines in mathematics and science credentials through 2014–15, even when supply was beginning to improve in other areas in response to greater demand. These trends will further exacerbate hiring difficulties in the mathematics and science fields. Constant shortfalls exist in these areas because average non-teacher wages for individuals with mathematics and science degrees are so high relative to teaching.” (p. 30)

The problem of high attrition rates

“Since 2000, over 10% of schools have reported serious difficulties filling mathematics and science vacancies.  One 2012 analysis suggested these problems are caused less by an underproduction of mathematics and science teachers than by high levels of attrition for these teachers.  Since that time, demand has rapidly increased, signaling a shift in the labor market. This shift could indicate that hiring for these already difficult-to-staff subject areas will only become more challenging.” (p. 11)

“Retirements account for less than one-third of those who leave teaching in a given year.”

“Only a third of the teachers who leave the profession ever return.” (p. 3)

“In fact, as we show in this report, reducing attrition by half could virtually eliminate shortages. Compared to high-achieving jurisdictions like Finland, Singapore, and Ontario, Canada—where only about 3% to 4% of teachers leave in a given year—U.S. attrition rates are quite high, hovering near 8% over the last decade, and are much higher for beginners and teachers in high-poverty schools and districts. If attrition rates were reduced to the levels of those nations, the United States would eliminate overall teacher shortages.” (p. 4)

“Teachers with little preparation tend to leave at rates two to three times as high as those who have had a comprehensive preparation before they enter. Teachers in high-poverty, high-minority schools tend to have higher rates of attrition, as do teachers of color, who are disproportionately represented in these schools.” (p. 4)

“Mathematics and science teachers, for example, move schools and leave teaching at higher rates than humanities teachers and general elementary teachers.” (p. 44)

Turnover of teachers with alternate certification

“Our analysis of the Schools and Staffing Surveys found that teachers who enter the profession through an alternative certification program have higher rates of annual turnover (17% versus 13% for regular pathway teachers). Among full-time teachers, after controlling for school and teacher characteristics, alternatively certified teachers are 20% more likely to leave their schools than teachers who entered teaching with standard certification.

Unfortunately, many of the teachers in hard-to-staff fields receive less pedagogical preparation because they are encouraged to enter before they have completed training, as districts seek to meet their pressing hiring needs. For example, mathematics and science teachers are more likely to be certified via an alternative pathway (21% of the total) than those teaching other subjects (less than 14%), and they have had less pedagogical training than other teachers on average.” (p. 47)

Differences in wage opportunities

“Both beginning and veteran teachers are more likely to quit when they work in districts with lower wages and when their salaries are low relative to alternative wage opportunities, especially in high-demand fields like mathematics and science.” (p. 55)

Addressing the problem

“It is clear that in the fields with nationwide shortages—such as mathematics, science, special education, and bilingual/ESL education—the pipelines into teaching must be expanded. Given the strong effects of preparation and mentoring on candidates’ effectiveness and rates of retention in teaching, it is important that strategies for increasing supply do so by strengthening incentives to enter along with supports to succeed.” (p. 59)

How to attract and retain teachers

The following talking points are based on Podolsky, A., Kini, T., Bishop, J., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2016). Solving the Teacher Shortage: How to Attract and Retain Excellent Educators. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from

  • Since 2014–15, teacher shortages have been growing across the country, particularly in fields such as mathematics, science, bilingual/English-language development and special education, and in high-poverty urban and rural schools.
    • One factor is declines in those entering the profession. “Enrollment in teacher preparation programs declined dramatically from 719,081 in 2008-09 to 464,250 by 2013–14” (p. 1).
    • A second factor is high rates of teacher attrition, especially in low-income schools.
      • “[B]etween 19% and 30% of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years, with turnover much higher in low-income schools” (p. 1).
  • Five major factors that influence teachers’ decisions to enter, stay in, or leave the teaching profession and related recommendations.
    • Salaries and other compensation
      • Teachers’ salaries are not competitive with other professions; many salaries are too low to support a middle-class existence. Even after adjusting for the shorter work year, beginning teachers earn about 20% less than their peers.
      • For teachers in high-demand fields such as mathematics and science, salary differences between teaching and other jobs available to them are particularly important.
      • “[T]he best-paid teachers in low-poverty schools earned 35% more than their counterparts in high-poverty schools” (p. 10).
      • States that have raised and equalized salaries have solved shortages.
      • Report recommends increasing teacher salaries, as well as overall compensation by offering housing incentives. Also recommends providing low-income schools with additional resources to attract and retain high-quality teachers (focus on equitable distribution of resources)
    • Preparation and costs to entry.
      • “Attrition rates are found to be two to three times higher for those who enter the profession without full preparation…than for those who are comprehensively prepared” (p. vi).
      • In 2012, approximately 21% of first-year teachers were not fully certified. The proportion of teachers entering the profession via alternative programs “has increased from 13% in 1999–2000 to 24% in 2011–12” (p. 20).
      • Report recommends providing scholarships and loan forgiveness programs to attract prospective teachers. Also recommends developing teacher residencies; initial studies on such programs suggest that they attract greater diversity into the teaching workforce, supply more teachers in hard-to-staff subjects, and retain these teachers at higher rates.
    • Hiring and personnel management.
      • “Of public school teachers who left and said they would consider returning to teaching, more than 40% cited state certification reciprocity as an important factor, and nearly 70% cited the ability to keep retirement benefits” (p. vi) if they moved from one state to another.
    • Induction and support for new teachers.
      • Teachers with good induction support “stay in teaching at rates more than twice those of teachers who lack these supports” (p. 34).
      • The quality of induction programs in high-poverty schools tends to be weaker. New teachers in low-income schools are less likely to have formal mentors during their first year as compared to new teachers in high-income schools.
      • Report recommends investing in high-quality induction programs.
    • Working conditions, including leadership, opportunities for professional collaboration, and accountability.
      • Administrative support is a major factor in either leaving or staying in the profession.
      • Teacher report that the effects of school assessment and accountability on their teaching or curriculum was important in their decision to leave.
      • Report recommendation to make the profession more attractive by providing more opportunities for shared decision making and offering teachers advancement opportunities, such as serving as mentors for new or struggling teachers, that provide increased compensation and recognition.

Insights from the Schools and Staffing Survey and Teacher Follow-up Survey

The following information comes from the report “Minority Teacher Recruitment, Employment, and Retention: 1987 to 2013,” Learning Policy Institute Research Brief, September 2016, authored by Richard Ingersoll and Henry May. Retrieved from on October 30, 2016.

  • The problem of teacher shortages is particularly acute in terms of the numbers of teachers from “minority teachers” (the term used by the report).
    • In 2011-2012, 44% of elementary and secondary students were from underrepresented groups. 17.3% of elementary and secondary teachers were minority (p. 2)
    • Overall number and percentage of minority teachers has increased, but still a significant gap between percentage of minority teachers and percentage of minority students
  • While recent efforts to recruit larger numbers of minority teachers into the profession have often been successful, there are ongoing issues related to retention and teacher turnover, particularly for male minority teachers.
    • Successful recruitment efforts have included “future-educator programs in high schools, partnerships between community colleges and four-year teacher education programs, career ladders for paraprofessionals in schools, and alternative teacher certification programs.” (p. 1)
    • “While minorities have entered teaching at higher rates than non-minorities over the past two-and-a-half decades, minority teachers also have left schools at higher rates.” (p. 4)
    • Issues with retention and teacher turnover are primarily related to poor working conditions, particularly relatively low levels of teacher influence and autonomy.
      • “In other words, the data indicate that minority teachers are employed at higher rates in schools serving disadvantaged students, but also depart at higher rates because these same schools tend to be less desirable as workplaces.” (p. 5)