Education Empowerment

The Free Market Solution to Teacher Shortages

Headlines around the country are bemoaning the upcoming teacher shortage. Many claim that all we need to do is increase teacher pay and lower class sizes to solve this problem. Teacher shortages are more complicated than simply increasing teacher pay. 

As a principal, I hired two very qualified teachers into positions outside of their licensure areas. Due to overly burdensome licensure requirements, I wasn’t able to retain either teacher. Both were certified teachers, but neither had the “right” license. 

Teacher shortage can mean different things to different people. Is there just a general teacher shortage across the country or is the teacher shortage limited to urban areas or a particular state? Is the teacher shortage for all positions, or are we just looking for qualified math and science teachers? Do we only need high school teachers or middle school teachers or elementary teachers?

The definition of teacher shortage needs to be clear in order to address the specific needs of the school districts.

A better solution to the variety of shortages would be to loosen licensing requirements. 

Addressing Teacher Pay

Many teachers compare their jobs to lawyers and doctors, but doctors and lawyers attend college for multiple years beyond a bachelor’s degree. In addition, students must pass a very difficult and strict assessment in order to be accepted to a medical or law school.

One study on teacher pay, found that teachers earn around the same amount as occupations with similar education levels. But this is highly dependent on where a teacher lives and works. In Utah, Tintic School District tops out their salaries at $78,000, while Summit School District reaches over $93,000. And the same differences can be seen in districts across the country. 

Traditionally, districts have a set salary schedule for all employees. An individual teacher’s pay is not based upon the difficulty of the teacher’s position, teacher effectiveness, or if they are filling a high need position. Regardless of these factors, teachers are paid the same across the board based on years in the profession and certifications. 

Increasing teacher pay while also calling for smaller class sizes puts lawmakers in a payment paradox. School budgets are based upon the number of students enrolled at a school. Schools can increase teacher salaries, or they can lower class sizes. If schools hire more teachers to decrease class sizes, the salary of each teacher will decrease. But if teachers are willing to have more students in their classrooms, an increase in pay would make more sense. It becomes extremely difficult to increase teacher salaries while also decreasing class size. 

Overall, teacher pay has not kept up with total education spending. An analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics proves the point. Adjusting for inflation, there has been a 152 percent increase in education spending since 1970. Teacher salaries have only increased by 8% during that same period. 

Teacher pay can and should be addressed, but it should be addressed through free market principles. Teachers who perform better than their peers, work in a high needs position, or work with an at risk population should be paid more than those who do not. Additionally, a teacher who is willing to have more students in their classroom should also receive more money in their salary.

The “Right License” vs. The “Right Teacher”

Principals are not incentivized to hire the right person for the job but are encouraged to hire a licensed teacher, who may not be the best fit for the team. This is a leftover procedure from the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). NCLB increased requirements on teacher licensure. Highly qualified teachers came to mean a teacher with the proper certification. These requirements prevented people with practical knowledge on a topic from teaching, because they didn’t have the “right” license. 

Teacher licensure is overly complicated. Missouri, like many other states, is a single-issue state for licenses in medicine, law, dentistry, accounting, nursing and veterinary medicine. But for teachers in Missouri, there are 260 different certificates and endorsements. To complicate Missouri licensing further, each different certificate and endorsement comes with multiple levels. Teachers are required to improve the level of their license early in their career. This increases the difficulty of licensing requirements for teachers.

Teacher certificates don’t increase student outcomes. John Hattie found that teacher certification programs have very little effect on student outcomes. The Brookings Institute found that there is little difference in math understanding for students in a class with a certified teacher, an alternatively certified teacher, or a teacher without certification.

Increasing teacher pay may attract more people to the profession. But many of those would-be teachers will be rejected due to the complicated licensing process. We can help our schools and our students by loosening the licensing process.