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Mapping teacher workforce needs to strengthen the teacher pipeline: Using geographical information systems

a US map with states represented by circle cartoon human face

By Joni Wackwitz | September 15, 2021

Geographical information systems (GIS) are interactive, computer-based mapping applications that combine multiple types of data to show relationships and patterns geographically. By toggling different data layers on and off, users can display and analyze a variety of combinations of information within a single map. Because of this ability, GIS mapping technology can serve as a valuable tool for investigating and understanding place-based education issues, such as student mobility, discipline practices, school segregation, and the availability and dispersion of qualified teachers.1

Using GIS maps to examine Louisiana’s local teacher workforce needs

In Louisiana, Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest is helping the state understand GIS mapping technology to examine teacher workforce needs and strengthen the teacher pipeline. Like many states, Louisiana lacks enough qualified teachers to fill every need at every school.2 To meet these challenges, many school systems have hired teachers with irregular, provisional, temporary, or emergency certifications. This approach, however, can produce inequities as to who has access to qualified teachers. For example, the Louisiana Board of Regents found that in 2018/19, schools with high percentages of students from minority groups or economically disadvantaged households were more likely to have classes taught by uncertified teachers.3

Through our Southwest Teacher Preparation and Professional Development Research Partnership, staff at REL Southwest and the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) partnered to develop a set of two interactive GIS maps that visualize the local need for appropriately certified teachers across the state. The maps, which resemble dashboards, show the percentage of certified, uncertified, and out-of-field teachers at the state, school system, and school levels, both overall and by subject/area (elementary, special education, and secondary English, math, science, and social studies). Accompanying graphs provide relevant demographic characteristics, such as race/ethnicity. In addition, filters enable users to toggle additional options on and off to view the data, for example, by degree of need or school type (traditional or charter). For instance, the map showing overall need can be filtered by school letter grade or school status (Comprehension Intervention Required).

GIS map: School system need for appropriately certified teachers in Louisiana

a screenshot of the arcgis dashboard

To support the project, the REL Southwest team led two coaching sessions to build the capacity of LDOE partners to use GIS mapping technology. In the first session, REL Southwest and LDOE developed data and design specifications for the GIS maps to align with the research questions LDOE was interested in exploring. In the second session, REL Southwest facilitators previewed the GIS maps and worked with LDOE partners to refine them. In addition, participants gained hands-on practice using GIS maps to analyze teacher workforce data, answer simple research questions, hypothesize about root factors driving teacher pipeline issues, and inform decisionmaking. View the archived materials.

Ginger Stoker, PhD, a REL Southwest senior researcher who co-led the project, considers GIS mapping an effective way to make data analysis more accessible. “GIS mapping brings data to the people,” Dr. Stoker said. “It allows anybody to be able to identify an education need using a vast amount of data but in a really visual and easy-to-use format. You don’t have to be a statistician or a data analyst to understand the maps. You don’t have to think about all the numbers. You can see at a glance that this district or that area is a dark color, meaning there’s a lot of need there, without a lot of mental effort.”

Using GIS maps to inform teacher pipeline policies and practices

Louisiana’s education leaders will be able to use the GIS maps to answer a range of questions about local needs for appropriately certified and in‑field teachers as well as critical areas to target. For example:

  • In how many school systems does the need for appropriately certified teachers exceed 50 percent?
  • In which school systems does the percentage of courses taught by out-of-field or uncertified teachers exceed 60 percent?
  • In a given school system, which school has the highest need for appropriately certified teachers? What is that school’s letter grade? Is it a Comprehensive Intervention Required school? What are the subject areas in the school that have the highest need for in-field or certified teachers?

By exploring intersections among multiple factors in the GIS maps, LDOE can then dig deeper to examine potential root causes underlying Louisiana’s teacher pipeline challenges and explore policies to address them.

The state’s Believe and Prepare teacher residency program can use the GIS maps to guide local policy actions, such as strategic partnerships between understaffed schools and nearby teacher preparation programs, to ensure the availability of teachers. In turn, teacher preparation programs can use the maps to learn more about the needs and characteristics of the schools and communities they serve.

At the school system level, administrators can use the maps to uncover and address systemic issues related to teacher hiring and workforce needs within their systems. School systems can then use this information to guide local efforts to recruit, hire, and transfer workforce talent to the schools and subjects where they are most needed to ensure a high-quality and equitable education for all students.

>>  View the GIS maps and archived project materials


1 Cohen, 2017; Lipman, 2008; Schultz, 2014; Sohoni, & Saporito, 2009.

2 U.S. Department of Education, 2016.

3 Louisiana Board of Regents, 2019.

For more information on our work supporting Louisiana’s teacher pipeline and other projects from the Southwest Teacher Preparation and Professional Development Research Partnership:


Cohen, D. (2017). Market mobilities/immobilities: Mutation, path-dependency, and the spread of charter school policies in the United States. Critical Studies in Education, 58(2), 168–186.

Lipman, P. (2008). Mixed‐income schools and housing: Advancing the neoliberal urban agenda. Journal of Education Policy, 23(2), 119–134.

Louisiana Board of Regents. (2019). 2018–2019 educator workforce report.  

Schultz, L. M. (2014). Inequitable dispersion: Mapping the distribution of highly qualified teachers in St. Louis Metropolitan Elementary Schools. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22(90), n90.

Sohoni, D., & Saporito, S. (2009). Mapping school segregation: Using GIS to explore racial segregation between schools and their corresponding attendance areas. American Journal of Education, 115(4), 569–600.

U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Prevalence of teachers without full state certification and variation across schools and states.

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Author Information

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Joni Wackwitz

Senior Communications Specialist | REL Southwest