University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Does Arkansas Have a Teacher Shortage?

In The View from the OEP on August 29, 2018 at 1:16 pm


Amid national conversations about teacher shortages, we’ve been wondering if Arkansas has a teacher shortage.  We’ve been doing some research, and are excited to release our Policy Brief and Arkansas Education Report on Teacher Supply in Arkansas.

Does Arkansas have a teacher shortage?

Well, it’s difficult to tell.  One measure of teacher supply could be the number of teachers available to students, and Arkansas seems to do okay here.  According to ADE’s Recruitment and Retention Report, Arkansas students have greater access to teachers than their peers across the country. In Arkansas there is one classroom teacher to every 14.3 students, compared to the national average of 16.1 students per teacher (NCES).

Another measure of teacher supply could be the number of licensed educators in the state.  We have a bunch in Arkansas! According to Arkansas Department of Education (ADE), there were 33,228 certified teachers employed in Arkansas schools in 2017-18, and 60,317 people in Arkansas with a teaching license of any type as of 2017-18. That’s 81% more licensed teachers than are currently employed in the public schools.

A third measure of teacher supply considers the number of students enrolled in educator preparation programs, and the number of education program graduates entering the workforce. The ADE references the decline in the number of enrollees in education preparation programs as particular cause for concern.

All of these measures, however, focus on the overall supply of teachers in the state, and do not address current teacher supply realities faced by districts. It is possible there could be a shortage in some regions and subjects, but a surplus in others.

What do districts say?

We use a more intuitive and immediate measure of teacher supply: a ratio of the number of applicants for each open teaching position. This is the first study to define teacher supply in this way. By examining the ratio of applications to vacancies at the district level, we get a more direct, localized, measure of teacher supply and can investigate the relationship district characteristics may have on supply.

There is no centralized source to obtain the number of teaching vacancies and applicants in Arkansas, because each district posts their own position announcements and handles applications independently. In fact, over 46% of districts use only paper applications for teacher positions.

To gather information on the number of teaching vacancies and associated applications from school districts, we administered a survey to all districts in the Spring of 2017.  Overall, 74% of districts responded and the respondents were representative of statewide districts on examined characteristics.

We examined the reported teacher supply by student characteristics, district enrollment, district location, and beginning teacher salary. We also examined the relationship between teacher supply and the grade level and subject area of the vacancy.

What did we find?

  • There is not an overall teacher shortage across the state, but teacher supply is unequally distributed.
  • On average, districts reported receiving 6 applications per teacher vacancy. 
  • Districts that have the most favorable teaching supply are larger districts with enrollment greater than 3,500. On average, these districts get 8 applications per vacancy.
  • Urban and suburban districts, as well as districts in the Northwest appear to have a significant advantage in attracting teaching applicants.
  • Districts that face a greater challenge in attracting teaching supply are those in the Central, Southwest, and Southeast regions, and those in rural areas.
  • Beginning teacher salary is not found to be significantly related to district teacher supply, although districts who pay the most recieve more applications per vacancy.


What do we recommend?

Today the Learning Policy Institute released a report about six evidence-based policies that states are taking to solve teacher shortages:

  • Service scholarships and loan forgiveness (Arkansas does this!)
  • High-retention pathways into teaching (Arkansas does this!)
  • Mentoring and induction for new teachers
  • Developing high-quality school principals
  • Competitive compensation (Arkansas does this!)
  • Recruitment strategies to expand the pool of qualified educators

Arkansas is highlighted several times throughout the report, and we applaud the work that the state is doing to attract and retain teachers.  We do, however, worry that the current method Arkansas uses to identify teacher supply focuses more on the overall intended (future) supply, than on the current supply districts experience through the number of applications they receive.

Issues related to district level teacher supply may be different from statewide challenges and policies to address them must  be considered. Rather than focus on overall supply, Arkansas should consider examining teacher supply at a more localized level and examine ways to better match prospective teachers to positions.  To that end, we suggest the following recommendations:

  • To better understand how teacher supply is distributed across districts, the state should consider collecting application and vacancy information at the district level.
  • To make it easier for applicants to find district vacancies and districts to find applicants, a statewide online application process could be used. Teachers may be more likely to complete an application online than go ‘old-school’ and mail in a paper application.
  • Starting the hiring process earlier, especially for low-supply districts, could increase both the quantity and quality of candidates.
  • Examining ways to purposefully place student teachers in districts, and developing more district-university partnerships where they are limited or may not exist, would also facilitate getting teachers to where they are most needed.
  • Expand communication of any incentives available for teachers, especially those in small districts and districts in the Southeast and Southwest regions of the state.

Teachers are critical to Arkansas’ success, and there is a lot of great work being done to support them. We want to make sure we have quality teachers in all our clasrrooms.  A deeper understanding of variations in teacher supply throughout the state can maximize the impact of the policies being used to solve any teacher shortages, and provide reliable data about their effectiveness.

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