National school staffing shortages have become increasingly difficult to address. The workforce gaps are continually shifting as the need for special services of diversifying types continues to rise. While school districts across the country are facing these issues, major inequalities exist from district to district, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
What’s more, states lack the most basic information about supply and demand in the teacher labor market, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. In fact, only 16 states gather complete data on teacher demand, and often the data they do have is not adequately broken down to a local level where decisions are made based on local resources. Often, schools are unaware of needs and resources that lie beyond their districts.
Effectively addressing this issue – at a national, district and even individual school level – requires a broader perspective on the education labor market and an understanding of how to leverage the right resources within that workforce. National staffing agencies, which have a pulse on these gaps, can work with school districts to analyze and strategize around key factors influencing maldistribution of education talent, such as geography, increased demand for and diversity of special services, and attrition.
In our experience, rural areas have often struggled the most with filling educator vacancies. Not only is recruitment more challenging, but retention is often more difficult in rural school districts for a few reasons. For one, educators in rural geographies have typically made less money than their suburban and urban counterparts. In addition, educators in rural areas are more likely to teach subjects outside of their expertise.
Rural areas were originally a focus for staffing agencies because of these unique challenges, but in the last few years, we have seen the demand for educators skyrocket even in large cities as attrition rises and salaries plateau.
However, some distinct patterns have emerged in certain locales. For example, the need for educators and special services in Texas schools has grown tremendously. We first noticed this increased demand three years ago and believe it to be the result of people relocating from California. Austin has one of the highest needs for educators, but fortunately it is a location of interest to our candidates.
Regardless of location, we are well-equipped to help schools find the right educators and special services for their students – and the right place for school professionals. In our experience, this means a place where our candidates feel truly and uniquely needed by their students and an environment that will help them continue to grow professionally.
Many of the educators we work with also enjoy the privilege and opportunities that come from working with a variety of schools and communities. Paraeducator Rudolph Cox said that his favorite part of working as a school professional is “meeting people from other cultures and helping all my students learn something each day.”
Katherine Uzel, a teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing, shared a similar sentiment, “I enjoy working at different schools and getting to meet such a great group of people. I collaborate with a lot of different professionals, students, and parents. Every day is different, every week is different.”
Increased demand for and diversity of special services
The number of students who need to receive special education services is growing. In 2009-10, 6.5 million students ages 3-21 received special education services in public schools, which represents 13% of enrollment. In 2020-21, that number grew to 7.2 million, or 15% of enrollment. Projections from the National Center for Education Statistic (NCES) show that in 2028, public school enrollment numbers will reach 57.4 million, an increase from the 49.5 million students enrolled in 2021. Using current enrollment rates as a baseline, this means that an additional one million students will require special education services in 2028.
This doesn’t necessarily account for the students who have multiple disabilities requiring more than one service. According to the NECS, 33% of all students receiving special education services have specific learning disabilities, 19% had speech or language impairments, and 15% had “other” health impairments.
With the increasing number of students requiring special services of diversifying types, schools need a partner to provide professionals who are skilled in a wide range of learning and therapy disciplines.
Kelly Duran, an Occupational Therapist, shared with us her feeling that “all children, regardless of their disabilities, deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential and experience classroom inclusion that enriches everyone’s lives.” Our mission at Soliant is to ensure that students receive quality educational services and have access to skilled educators that make it possible for them to have an inclusive classroom experience.
The national attrition rate for special educators is 13%, which is twice that of general education teachers. Part of this problem can be attributed to higher caseloads as the number of children who qualify to receive special education services has increased over the past decade. This is putting a strain on educators’ capacities, increasing burnout rates.
When special educators leave the field, it only exacerbates the problem for those who remain and are asked to take on even more work. When we have spoken with special education directors about the biggest challenges they face, many tell us it is staffing.
This is not to say that more general education teachers are remaining in the field. According to a National Education Association (NEA) survey released earlier this year, 55% of all educators are considering leaving the field earlier than planned. This is for a variety of reasons, many of which stem from wanting to work in a different way after experiencing professional burnout.
Sadia Akhtar, an early intervention specialist, said, “I experienced burnout in my clinical career and wanted to address the impact it was having on my overall wellness and mental health. I explored different ways in which I could provide ethical, evidence-based and meaningful therapy in a different setting and discovered telepractice.” Staffing companies can provide alternatives to educators that are considering leaving the field, and work with them to identify a solution that allows them to remain working in education.
However, some attrition comes from family or medical circumstances. In the case of unplanned attrition, such as medical leave, schools can turn to staffing agencies to help them fill positions quickly. Staffing agencies can also help with planned, shorter-term vacancies, like parental leave, throughout the year.
The maldistribution of education talent in the U.S. is an ongoing problem that will not be solved without proper data and cooperation between school districts and states. With a broad perspective on factors like geography, demand for special services and attrition rates locally and nationwide, an experienced national staffing firm is equipped to help facilitate the redistribution and redeployment of school professionals as well as keep them in the field of education.