The Texas teacher shortage represents a systemic challenge

Two teachers stand and two teachers shit as they engage in conversation during a staff meeting

By J Cody Huie, Charles Butt Foundation Vice President of Programs

At the Charles Butt Foundation, we believe a critical underpinning of a more equitable and prosperous future for all Texans is for every student in every classroom to have an effective teacher every year. Unfortunately, that is not the current reality. Texas struggles to ensure every classroom has a fully certified teacher. In 2021–22, a combined 57% of first-time teachers in Texas held either a substandard intern certificate or emergency permit, (30%) or no certification at all (27%). That is why part of our strategy is centered around making progress in this regard.

Investing in and elevating teachers

In the spring of 2017, the Charles Butt Foundation (formerly the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation) launched Raising Texas Teachers, a 10-year, $50 million dollar program designed to recruit more diverse and talented teachers into the field, improve the quality of the teacher preparation statewide, and elevate the status of the teaching profession. We have awarded more than $10 million through the Charles Butt Scholarship for Aspiring Teachers to almost 700 future teachers. We have collaborated with 27 university-based teacher preparation programs to improve the quality of teacher preparation statewide. And we have partnered with more than 150 other organizations through the #TeachersCan movement to honor the teaching profession and celebrate teachers across Texas.

Using research as a compass

The Charles Butt Foundation also values and invests in public opinion and academic research related to teaching and teacher workforce issues. We conduct an annual poll of Texans about public education issues and perceptions on teaching. We conduct an annual poll of teachers to give voice to those responsible for preparing the future of our state. And we commission third-party research to dig deeper into issues that can strengthen and support the teaching profession to benefit our students and teachers, our communities, and our economy.

In the ongoing pursuit of sustainable improvements to the state teacher workforce strategy, we recently partnered with the national experts at the Learning Policy Institute to commission a comprehensive research report titled Strengthening Pathways Into the Teaching Profession in Texas — Challenges and Opportunities. This report reviews the emerging research; describes the substantial efforts Texas leaders and institutions are making to address concerns about workforce preparation and stability; and provides additional actionable, research-based policy recommendations.

Different teacher preparation, different outcomes

Addressing teacher shortages is not a new challenge for the state.  While the number of teacher positions steadily increased over the past decade, the number of new teachers entering the field steadily declined, and Texas teachers have left the field at a rate that is 25% greater than the national average. Together, these factors contribute to persistent shortages in critical subject areas, such as special education, math, science, and bilingual / English as a second language. 

For decades, the state’s strategy to address teacher shortages has been to lower the barrier to entry — particularly through the expansion of alternative certification programs that are not required to provide aspiring teachers even  one week of classroom experience before they become a teacher of record.The intent was to make it easier to recruit new candidates. This has not worked. Texas still faces teacher shortages. We also know the recruitment strategy is not addressing the biggest challenge we face in our teacher workforce: attrition is the primary driver for teacher shortages. More than 9 in 10 vacancies nationally result from teachers leaving the field. In Texas, the proportion of annual teacher demand due to prior year attrition from the state workforce is now even higher than the national average; 99.7% of statewide hires in 2021-22 were to replace teachers who left teaching in Texas public schools the year before. 

The state’s expansion of alternative teacher certification, specifically for-profit alternative teacher certification, has outpaced the nation and is now responsible for 58% of new teachers coming into the Texas system annually. Texas is responsible for approximately half of all alternatively certified teachers in the nation. This is problematic because current data shows alternative certification disproportionately results in untrained or under-trained teachers in the classrooms of our state’s most vulnerable students — classrooms where our strongest and most experienced teachers are most needed.

In addition, alternatively certified teachers leave the profession at a significantly higher rate due to their lack of preparation prior to becoming the teacher of record responsible for students’ learning. Not only are these under-trained teachers taking a toll on our students, they’re taking a toll on our districts — an estimated $20,000 in recruitment, hiring, and training costs per new teacher. Our alternative certification system is exacerbating shortages rather than solving them. We cannot stabilize our teacher workforce without directly addressing our alternative certification system, especially our for-profit alternative certification sector. 

The state’s longstanding teacher shortage represents a systemic challenge that must be addressed. As we navigate a legislative session marked by an unprecedented budget surplus, the Charles Butt Foundation urges our policymakers to take heed of the recommendations outlined in this report that have proven to affect change. Texas must build on the great work already underway in many districts and at several university teacher preparation programs. We must expand access to rigorous high-quality teacher preparation programs, support strategies that address teacher retention, and increase teacher salaries. Our teachers deserve it. Our students need it. And our state will be more equitable and prosperous because of it.