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Addressing Teacher Shortage in Arizona

Addressing Teacher Shortage in Arizona

Like many states around the country, Arizona is facing a significant teacher shortage. A recent survey by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (ASPAA) shows that nearly 23% of teaching positions (about 1,700 teacher positions) remained vacant in Arizona at the start the 2018–19 school year. Additionally, about 913 teachers resigned from their position within the first half of the school year.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the ASPAA survey results have indicated a teacher shortage in the state. These shortages come with negative impacts on multiple levels and put pressure on teachers to manage more than they can with high classroom sizes and workloads.

Here, we’re taking a close look at what’s at the root of Arizona’s teacher shortage issues and what administrators can consider doing to meet specific challenges in their own buildings.

What Is Causing Arizona’s Teacher Shortage Problem?

Teacher shortage in Arizona is a nuanced issue, and it’s impossible to attribute it to a single cause. However, several key factors can be identified:

Low per-student funding

As of 2018, Arizona’s total per-pupil spending is $9,929, almost $4,000 under the national average of $13,458, and over $12,000 less than the highest state per-pupil spending of $22,366 in New York. Studies show that increasing per-pupil spending throughout all 12 school-age years for students can eliminate the attainment gap between low-income and other families and increase graduation rates. Thus, a state with a lower per-pupil fund is less attractive to educators.

Stagnant wages

Nationally, Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid, ranking 45th in the country. On average, Arizona teachers make $49,892 a year, which is well below the national average of $61,782. After adjusting for inflation, salaries in Arizona have decreased by about 10% in the past decade. Without competitive salaries, it’s difficult to find qualified and experienced teachers for Arizona students.

Shrinking teacher pipelines

New teacher recruitment and retention are critical to the ongoing availability of well-qualified instructors for Arizona students. However, as in other regions of the country, education is a profession that continues to struggle with losing prestige and, in turn, losing highly skilled new candidates. According to a Center for American Progress report, Arizona is not alone, and “Across the country, enrollment in teacher preparation programs, the first step to becoming  a teacher, has steadily declined since 2009, meaning fewer and fewer people are taking the first critical step toward entering the teaching profession.”

What Arizona Administrators Can Do to Overcome Staffing Challenges

Addressing an issue as complex as Arizona’s ongoing teacher shortage inevitably takes time and sustained effort; there will never be a quick fix for this problem. However, there are concrete steps that administrators can take to manage immediate staffing issues and lay the groundwork for overcoming the broader challenge. Here are three options for Arizona administrators to consider:

Talk to local legislators

Advocacy efforts do make a difference. Talk to your local politicians about staffing challenges that your school or district is facing and how those challenges are affecting the teachers and students you serve. As much as possible, provide these legislators with concrete numbers and statistics to support your case. Overnight changes won’t happen, but over time, these conversations can lead to real and impactful policy changes.

In an effort to stop the new teacher pipeline shrinkage, in 2017, Governor Doug Ducey partnered with public universities and communities colleges to launch the Arizona Teachers Academy. Now, graduates of the academy who teach in an Arizona school will have their tuition and fees waived to ensure that they are qualified to and prepared to teach and relieved from their educational debt. Enrollment at the academy more than doubled to 464 students in 2018–19 from 221 the previous year.

Focus on workplace culture

You may not have control over the size of the applicant pool in your area, but you do have some control over retaining the high-quality teachers you already have. So, even if your school or district is working under significant financial constraints, do all you can to make your buildings outstanding places to work. Prioritize teacher-induction programs to ensure that all new staff members you hire get started on the right foot—and stick around. Provide opportunities for all of your teachers to engage in mentorship, seek professional development, take on leadership roles, network with their peers, and voice their opinions and needs. The resource edWeb is a great place to start for free webinars and networking resources to share with your staff. Even small cultural shifts to prioritize teachers’ well-being can have a huge impact on finding and retaining the talent you need.

Consider a virtual school partner

Often, virtual schools are understandably seen as competition by district and school administrators, so they may not be a teacher-shortage solution that immediately comes to mind. However, partnering with such a program can be a practical, convenient, and cost-effective route to take to address staffing challenges. For example, Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy is a fully accredited virtual school that works with schools and districts to provide over 400 Arizona standards-aligned courses—including career and technical education, World Languages, and Advanced Placement® options—paired with high-quality teachers certified in the state. Students can be enrolled in EdOptions Academy courses as needed, enabling our Arizona partners to provide the courses students want, the flexibility to quickly fill staffing gaps when needs arise, and the ability to retain student enrollment. 

Interested in learning more about how partnership with EdOptions Academy can help your school or district manage teacher-shortage challenges? Check out this blog post on 7 Benefits of Partnering with a Virtual School!

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