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Teacher Pipeline Shortage

Topic Overview

This topic deals with the diminishing teacher pipeline in the United States. Fewer and fewer people are deciding to become teachers, and this is causing teacher shortages across the country. The decline in teacher numbers leads to larger classroom sizes and less teachers instructing in their credentialed subject area. This in turn can lower the quality of instruction for students around the country. In this overview, data from multiple sources is used to explain the current status of the teacher pipeline in the United States, and the potential causes and solutions for this decline in new teachers.

The number of people in the United States going into the teaching profession has been going down in recent years. From 2010 to 2014, the number of teachers going into traditional teacher preparation programs in the state of Georgia have gone from 16,565 to 11,2581. That is a 32 percent drop. Traditional teacher preparation programs are ones offered by colleges and universities, where students gain their certification with their bachelors or masters degree. These programs have accreditation from state and national agencies. During that same five year stretch, alternative programs for teacher preparation in Georgia saw a decline from 1,676 to 620. This is a 63 percent decrease. These programs, like the Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program, allow people with bachelor degrees not in education to transfer into becoming a teacher2. These teacher candidates are required to take a four-week training course. Then they complete a year long mentored teaching experience.

The decline of the teacher pipeline is more prominent in some teaching fields than others. Teachers pursuing to instruct in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields are having one of the higher declines. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Surveys, school-level teacher vacancies in the STEM subjects were higher than all other vacancies3. The percentage for STEM vacancies was at around 21 percent, with special education being second at around 17 percent. This is compared to elementary teacher vacancies, which was at around 2 percent. According to an article called Refueling the STEM and Special Education Teacher Pipelines,

"Over half of all districts and over 90% of high-minority districts report difficulties recruiting and retaining teachers designated as highly qualified in STEM and SPED under No Child Left Behind".3

These shortages are forcing many states to come up with solutions to increase the number of people in the STEM fields entering the teacher pipeline.

The main solution is to increase the salary for teachers that will teach a STEM subject. Georgia’s former governor Sonny Perdue signed HB280 in 2009 to increase the starting salary of new fully certified science and math teachers4. In the bill, new math and science teachers are started at five years experience, which increases the salary by thousands of dollars. The increase in salary will make the profession more attractive. At the same time, throwing money at a problem is not the overall solution to this problem, but it is progress towards trying the strengthen the teacher pipeline.

Trend and an Issue

The shortages of people in the teacher pipeline for secondary education is both a trend and an issue. School districts around the country are having difficulties filling positions, which makes it a current issue. Because less and less people are entering teacher preparation programs each year, this issue is also a growing trend. A representative for the Oakland Unified School District in California was quoted saying,

“The teacher shortage we're facing in Oakland is significantly more dire than in previous years. We just don't have as many teachers in the pipeline”5.

This quote quickly sums up why the shortages in the teacher pipeline for secondary education is a current trend and issue in the United States.

Fewer and fewer people are entering teacher preparation programs. Many high school students are no longer looking into pursuing education as a post-secondary career. According to the American College Testing (ACT), from 2010 to 2014, the number of high school students that took the ACT and indicated an interest in a career in education has dropped from 106,659 to 89,3476. This is only a 2 percent drop, but when the number of ACT-tested graduates has risen 18 percent over those same four years, those numbers become more meaningful. Another statistic that shows the downward trend in the teacher pipeline is the growing number of college students switching from an education major to a different major. The ACT has found that more than half of education majors are switching to a non-education major within two years of college.

This trend with fewer people entering teacher preparation programs is especially bad for the STEM and special education (SPED) areas. Looking at Figure 13, the numbers of STEM and SPED teacher endorsements has remained almost constant in Washington State over a period of 28 years. When you account for the change in population of over 76 million people in the United States during the same time period, that consistency is not favorable7. Also, when examining the last decade on Figure 1, there is a noticeable decline in elementary and all other teacher endorsements.

Figure 1:
Figure 1 Wiki Page.jpg

The decline of people entering the teacher pipeline can be linked to many reasons. Low pay, more rigorous teacher evaluations, fewer classroom resources, and all the standardized testings are reasons why people do not want to pursue a career in education8. Many veteran teachers are not helping in recruiting new teachers into the profession by expressing pessimism towards the public education system. Nancie Atwell, the winner of the first annual $1 million Global Teacher Prize awarded by the Varkey Foundation, recently said in an interview with CNN that she would not advocate people becoming a public school teacher. She was quoted saying,

"If you’re a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you”.

This kind of negativity is widespread, and does not provide a great environment for new teachers.

School systems and other organizations are working to strengthen the teacher pipeline by recruiting more teacher candidates. One of these organizations is the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. This organization has created a teaching fellowship to recruit more teachers in the STEM fields. The fellowship operates in Ohio, Indiana, and Georgia and it partners with 15 universities from those states. This mission statement for the fellowship is as follows:

The Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship seeks to attract talented, committed individuals with backgrounds in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—into teaching in high-need secondary schools in Georgia, Indiana, and New Jersey. Eligible applicants include current undergraduates, recent college graduates, midcareer professionals, and retirees who have majored in, or had careers in, STEM fields9.

The fellows in the program enter into a masters degree at a partner university, receive a stipend to assist with school and living expenses, and complete a year long student teaching experience in a high needs school. After completing the program, the fellows teach in a high needs school in their state for three years. More programs are needed to assist in the recruitment of future teachers. Without a strong teacher pipeline, teacher shortages will continue to be a problem. With programs like the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship, the trend of fewer people becoming teachers can be reversed, and the public education system of the United States can improve its stability.

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Annotated Bibliography

Note: The sources correspond with the footnotes in the writing above.
  1. Title II Higher Education Act. (2015). Data Tools: Enrollment by state, by program type
    1. This government data source complies information on teacher preparation programs by state.
  2. Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program. (2009). Retrieved May 18, 2016, from
    1. This website outlines the Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program.
  3. Goldhaber, D., Krieg, J., Theobald, R., & Brown, N. (2015). Refueling the STEM and special education teacher pipelines. Phi Delta Kappan, 97(4), 56-62. Chicago
    1. This is an article that overviews the diminished STEM and SPED teacher pipelines in the United States, and the reasons for the issue.
  4. Oppong, N., de Araujo, Z. U., Lowe, L., Marshall, A. M., & Singletary, L. (2009). Georgia's Compensation Model: A Step in the Right Direction. Mathematics Educator, 19(1), 3-7.
    1. This article discusses HB280, which was signed in 2009 to give additional compensation to new secondary teachers in the STEM fields.
  5. Westervelt, E. (2015, August 19). Teacher Shortage? Or Teacher Pipeline Problem? Retrieved May 24, 2016, from
    1. This article goes over the the issue of teacher shortages in the United States, and its connection with the diminishing teacher pipeline.
  6. Future Teacher Pipeline Narrows Even Further; ACT Report Shows Fewer High School Grads Planning to Become Educators. (2015, April 20). Retrieved May 24, 2016, from
    1. This report from the American College Testing (ACT) overvews the decrease interest of high school students in going into a career in education.
  7. Population Estimates. (n.d.). Retrieved May 27, 2016, from
    1. This source gives census information for the United States over time.
  8. Strauss, V. (2015, August 24). The real reasons behind the U.S. teacher shortage. Retrieved May 27, 2016, from
    1. This article makes the connection between teacher shortages and teachers' growing dissatisfaction with their profession.
  9. Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation | The Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships. (n.d.). Retrieved June 01, 2016, from
    1. This source overviews the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship.