Troubling. Startling. Urgent. Crisis.
These are just a few of the words used by Palmetto State Teachers Association in recent years to describe the scope of the educator shortages detailed in past releases of the Annual Educator Supply and Demand Report. With today’s announcement of a fifth consecutive year of increased teacher vacancies, it is challenging to find new words to fully capture the scale and impact of persistent teacher shortages- but it is uncomfortably easy to see the compounding negative effects for students, families, and educators.
The 1,613 vacant positions documented in the 2023 Supply and Demand Report is the highest number ever recorded, representing a 190% increase compared to 2019. While it is important to note that total statewide teaching positions increased slightly compared to last school year, the increase in vacant positions significantly outpaced the number of added positions. A closer look at specific data in this year’s report shows further cause for alarm. For example, schools are relying more than ever on international teachers to fill staffing needs. While these teachers obviously bring unique and valuable perspectives and expertise to schools, a 33% increase in the number of international teachers over the past year is troubling as work visa requirements largely prevent these employees from providing a long-term solution for shortages. South Carolina also continues to face mounting shortages in areas of critical need. Over the last year, vacancies have increased by 14% in science, 38% in special education, 31% for speech pathologists, and 77% for school librarians.
The growth and persistence of educator shortages is especially troubling in light of the well-documented and unprecedented academic and mental health challenges being experienced by students. As research has repeatedly demonstrated, teachers matter for student success and wellness. No other in-school factor has a greater influence on student academic achievement than access to a high-quality teacher, and strong relationships with caring educators strongly benefits student safety and well-being. However, across South Carolina, educator shortages are depriving tens of thousands of students from daily access to quality teaching. Instead, students are being placed in ever-growing classes or assigned to classrooms where the only “teaching” is delivered through the same type of virtual learning environments shown to be ineffective during the pandemic. Even students in seemingly stable classroom environments are experiencing the ripple effects of educator shortages, as demonstrated by unprecedented midyear staffing reassignments within districts.
South Carolina students deserve better. As noted by Superintendent Weaver, the 2023 Teacher Recruitment and Retention Task Force has provided a “roadmap” of policies, and PSTA calls on district administrators, local school boards, and statewide officials to enact the Task Force recommendations. Similarly, the 2024 PSTA R.E.A.C.H. Agenda outlines policies that can enhance educator recruitment and retention efforts.
South Carolina is out of words to describe the teacher shortage. Now is the time for action.