Skip Navigation

Home Blogs Teacher Workforce: An Overview of Challenges in the West Region

Teacher Workforce: An Overview of Challenges in the West Region

West | January 30, 2023

With the 2022 school year now in full swing, most K–12 students have returned to an in-person learning environment.1 However, a continuing question at the national and state levels is whether there are enough teachers in classrooms to create a consistent and effective learning environment. When classrooms lack qualified teachers, student achievement and student success are affected. Teacher shortages can significantly depress student achievement, as schools often cancel courses due to vacancies or staff classes with substitutes and underprepared teachers who are not certified to teach their subject matter. Underprepared teachers leave their schools at 2 to 3 times the rate of those who enter with comprehensive preparation. High turnover rates, in turn, can contribute to staff instability that disrupts relationships with students and other teachers, undermines professional learning, and impedes collaboration, all of which are critical to creating the supportive environments students need after nearly two years of disrupted learning.2 This blog post shares high-level data around the teacher pipeline and teacher attrition both nationally and in the West Region.  

Compared to other aspects of the educational experience, teachers have a significant impact on student achievement.3 Research has demonstrated that teachers have two to three times the effect of any other school factor, including school and district administration, on student performance on reading and math tests.4

Teacher vacancies are notably higher in schools with more students from low-income families and more students of color. In January 2022, data from the Institute of Education Sciences School Pulse Survey indicated that schools with higher percentages of minority students were more likely to report higher proportions of vacant positions than those with lower percentages of minority students. In addition, data indicates that schools in higher-poverty areas had at least 5 percent of their teacher positions vacant at a higher rate than schools in lower-poverty areas.5

These issues are not new and point to systemic challenges in creating equitable school environments for low-income students and students of color.

A teacher instructing students in a classroom using a digital screen

With this framing of the issue and impact of teacher shortages on students, the following provides an overview of the national landscape of teacher shortages and specifically looks at the region served by REL West.

The National Landscape of Teacher Shortages

Teacher Pipeline

The pipeline of future teachers has been decreasing for decades. Between the 2008/09 and 2018/19 academic years, the number of people completing a teacher education program dropped by nearly a third.6 Data also revealed that, over the past 50 years, the number of education degrees awarded plunged from 200,000 annually in the 1970s to fewer than 90,000 in 2019.7 And then COVID-19 hit.

Attrition and Teacher Vacancies

Prior to the pandemic, about 8 percent of teachers left the teaching profession each year and the majority of attrition typically occurred with teachers in the first five years of beginning their teaching careers. According to the RAND Corporation's American Teacher Panel from 2021, as many as 25 percent of teachers were considering leaving their teaching position.8 Having to change instruction modes, health concerns, and high levels of job burnout were all reported as reasons teachers left the profession during the pandemic.9 

Teacher Shortage in the REL West Region

Digging into the data shows that teacher shortages vary by school location. Even within the same district, some schools—particularly those in wealthier neighborhoods—experience less teacher turnover and were more likely to start the school year with a full staff in 2020.10

When looking at data specific to the REL West region, there are some similarities between states. Each state, however, has unique issues that highlight the nuances in teacher shortages and classroom vacancies.

An empty classroom

For example, as of early August 2022, the Nevada State Education Association estimated that roughly 3,000 teaching jobs remained unfulfilled across the state's school districts.11 During the same period in Arizona, there were more than 2,500 teacher vacancies statewide and another 4,000 teacher positions were being filled by individuals that did not meet standard teacher requirements.12

While there are a number of unfulfilled teaching positions in Utah, the main concern is with individuals who support teachers, such as paraeducators. For example, in Granite School District that serves 60,000 students in the Salt Lake Valley, there are 177 open positions—81 for paraeducators and 50 for nutritional services.13

In California, school district location and the economics and demographics of the area are associated with whether schools experience classroom shortages. Many districts that serve large numbers of high-needs students reported severe teacher shortages as the school year began, leaving students with substitutes or administrators to fill in until the district could hire more teaching staff.14

As REL West continues to develop partnerships in our region, we will explore issues of teacher recruitment and retention as we strive to help our partners improve student outcomes and ensure success for all students. Stay tuned!

1 2022 School Pulse Panel, Institute of Education Sciences.

2 Carver-Thomas, D. (2022). Teacher shortages take center stage. Learning Policy Institute.

3 Opper, I. M. (2019). Teachers matter: Understanding teachers' impact on student achievement. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

4 Ibid.

5 2022 School Pulse Panel, Institute of Education Sciences.

6 The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. (2022).

7 Heubeck, E. (2022, May 3). The pool of future teachers is dwindling. Can it be refilled? Ed Week

8  Steiner, E. D., & Woo, A. (2021). Job-related stress threatens the teacher supply: Key findings from the 2021 state of the U.S. teacher survey. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

9 Zamarro, G., Camp, A., Fuchsman, D., & McGeem, J. (2022). Understanding how COVID-19 has changed teachers' chances of remaining in the classroom. Sinquefield Center for Applied Economic Research.

10 Carver-Thomas, D., Leung, M., & Burns, D. (2021). California teachers and COVID-19: How the pandemic is impacting the teacher workforce. Learning Policy Institute.

11 Nevada State Education Association.

12 Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association.

13 Miller, J. (2022, August 22). Utah schools face staff shortages that can make it 'incredibly challenging to operate.'  Salt Lake Tribune.

14 Carver-Thomas, D., Leung, M., & Burns, D. (2021). California teachers and COVID-19: How the pandemic is impacting the teacher workforce. Learning Policy Institute.


Rebecca Lindgren

Rebecca Lindgren
Senior Communications Strategist

Connect with REL West