Examines the shortage of qualified teachers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and special education in Washington state; and provides potential solutions at the school district, state, and federal level to meet the growing demand for teachers in these fields.

Published in December 2015, this report documents the shortage of teachers in STEM and Special Education and also provides strategies that may help increase the number of teachers in these fields. The authors note that, “Policy makers and politicians across the country have increasingly prioritized improving the quality of the teacher workforce. Of particular and growing concern is the shortage of qualified teachers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects…

[The authors found that] Over half of all districts and over 90% of high-minority districts report difficulties recruiting and retaining teachers designated as highly qualified in STEM and SPED under No Child Left Behind. School administrators across the country consistently report greater difficulty filling SPED and STEM teaching appointments compared to alternative endorsement areas.

In Washington state, the setting for [the] discussion, the trends in teacher shortages largely mirror those observed nationally. In nearly every year since 1990, Washington has been listed as having shortages in STEM or SPED fields (U.S. Department of Education, 2015). There is new evidence that prospective teachers in Washington state endorsed to teach either in STEM or SPED find employment in public schools far more quickly than teaching candidates endorsed in other areas (Goldhaber, Krieg, & Theobald, 2013). For example, our models predict that an average prospective teacher endorsed in STEM or SPED has a 75% chance of being employed in a teaching job within three years of graduation, while the average teacher endorsed in elementary education has just a 50% chance of finding a teaching job in the same timeframe” (p.56-57).

After presenting data on teacher vacancies and attrition rates of Washington state, the rest of the report is guided by the following research question: “Why don’t we see better alignment between supply and demand for STEM and SPED teachers, and what can school districts, the state and federal government, and teacher training institutions do about this misalignment?” (p.59).


(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The report notes that, “One potential culprit for the misalignment of supply and demand in the teacher workforce is the widespread use by school districts of single salary schedules, in which teachers of the same experience and education level receive the same salary regardless of position and specialty area. This means that a STEM or SPED teacher is paid the same as an elementary teacher with the same experience and degree level, even though the STEM teacher likely has significantly better job prospects outside the teaching field (Walsh, 2014), and the SPED teacher likely faces more difficult working conditions (Fore et al., 2002)” (p.59-60). At the district level, the authors recommend “…to move beyond single salary schedules and offer differential economic incentives to teachers in high need areas” (p.60). They state that “Differential pay could have a twofold effect on local teacher labor markets. In the short term, higher compensation could retain more teachers in high need fields. For example, a modest bonus of $1,800 to certified math, science, and special education teachers in North Carolina school districts was sufficient to reduce mean turnover rates of the targeted teachers by 17% (Clotfelter et al., 2008). But in the long term, it also could increase the pool of prospective teaching candidates in these areas” (p.60). At the state level, authors note that “Some states have explored statewide incentive programs, which offer money and loan forgiveness to prospective teachers in key areas. For example, Georgia recently implemented a salary-bonus program for certified teachers in math and science, which allows starting teachers in these subjects to advance several steps on the state’s salary schedule” (p.61). Lastly, “At the federal level, a number of incentive programs focus on improving teacher recruitment and retention. Darling-Hammond and Sykes recommend consolidating all of the current small-scale fellowships, scholarships, and loan forgiveness programs into a sustained program directed at the nation’s most pertinent teaching needs, with substantial funding set aside to target teacher shortage areas” (p.61). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)