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RELEASE: Fewer People Are Training to Become Teachers, but New CAP Report Finds State Policies Can Make a Difference

Washington, D.C. — Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has declined 36 percent nationwide since the 2009-10 academic year, and a new Center for American Progress report presents several reasons for the decline, finding that state policies can have a big influence over whether students are interested in teaching careers.

As the 2016-17 school year gets underway, regional and subject-area teacher shortages can still be found across the country. To combat this trend and prevent a nationwide shortage, CAP’s report recommends increasing teacher compensation, ending seniority-based layoff policies, and providing prospective teachers with relevant local labor market information.

“Teacher shortages hurt communities, schools, and students,” said Lisette Partelow, Director of Teacher Policy at CAP. “State policies can make teaching more attractive, and policymakers should look closely at their approaches to pay and hiring, among other levers, to make teaching a more attractive career option.”

“The data are clear: Teacher recruitment is closely related to perceptions of job insecurity and low pay,” said Christina Baumgardner, co-author of the report. “To attract more teachers into the profession, school districts should reform recruitment and compensation policies to be more in tune with the labor market.”

CAP’s analysis, one of the first to look at this topic, finds that teachers are much more responsive to labor market concerns—such as pay—than was once assumed. The analysis found that there was less of a decline in states where there were fewer layoffs, where teacher salaries remained relatively stable, and where there were no “last in, first out” layoff policies—suggesting that prospective teachers were very attuned to their potential job prospects.

For example, reducing pay in a state from $50,000 to $45,000 annually after accounting for inflation during the post-recession years was associated with a 16.6 percent decline in enrollment in teacher preparation programs, indicating that prospective teachers were paying close attention to their potential salaries as they decided whether or not to pursue a teaching career.

After controlling for other factors, these three variables together—cutting teaching positions; allowing last in, first out layoff policies; and reducing teacher pay—account for roughly one-third of the decline in teacher preparation program enrollment. These findings have implications for state policymakers facing teacher shortages or looking to stem the decline in teacher preparation program enrollment in their states.

To increase the attractiveness of the teaching profession, CAP’s report makes the following recommendations:

  • States and school districts should work to close the compensation gap between teachers and other professionals. Reducing the costs of choosing a teaching career by accessing existing federal and state funding streams to increase teachers’ salaries or providing loan forgiveness and scholarship programs, among other options, could help states and districts avoid teacher shortages.
  • Districts and preparation programs should provide prospective teachers with information about local teacher labor market conditions and should take those conditions into account in recruitment, enrollment, and compensation decisions. Teacher preparation programs can improve their students’ placement outcomes if they take labor market information into account as they recruit and enroll students. Districts can also develop recruitment and compensation policies that are responsive to shortages and other labor market needs.
  • Compensation and ending seniority-based layoffs are important levers for policymakers seeking to reduce or prevent teacher shortages. When a teaching salary is significantly less than one could earn in a career requiring a similar level of education, this increases the opportunity cost of becoming a teacher. Moreover, an increased risk of being laid off when new teachers are first starting their careers presents another disincentive to becoming a teacher.

Click here to read “Educator Pipeline at Risk: Teacher Labor Markets after the Great Recession” by Lisette Partelow and Christina Baumgardner.

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For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Allison Preiss at or 202.478.6331.