The Indiana teacher shortage: Why the problem persists despite clear solutions
The teacher shortage is nothing new to Indiana, but lawmakers continue to overlook the obvious root causes and focus on the wrong solutions. Over the past several sessions of the Indiana General Assembly, legislators have pushed bills seeking to relax and diminish entry standards into the teaching profession by creating additional alternative pathways into education. Despite options already in existence – often less rigorous than traditional routes – most pathways fall short in important components essential for student learning such as pedagogy and classroom management.
Indiana legislators have also promoted efforts to differentiate pay through stipends and other avenues in their attempt to recruit teachers into hard-to-staff subjects. Yet, this only leads to divisions among educators by pitting them against one another and creating the perception that some subjects are more worthy than others.
What policy makers fail to realize is that the underlying reasons for the teacher shortage are not due to a lack of accessibility to enter the profession but rather:
- An overall inadequacy in teacher salaries across the board statewide.
- A lack of professional respect for educators’ expertise and judgement.
- Constantly fluctuating state standards and assessments.
- Additional pressures created by major changes in accountability.
- Graduation requirements.
- New and evolving mandates.
Another key factor in recruiting and retaining teachers is the inability for local associations to bargain working conditions – a result of sweeping restrictions to collective bargaining rights in 2011.
Enrollment in the state’s teacher preparation programs at major universities has steadily declined over the last decade, largely due to the onslaught of education reforms in Indiana. The problem is getting worse. As reported in The Tribune-Star, an annual survey by Indiana State University found the teacher shortage is at a 7-year high with 96 percent of districts reporting unfilled vacancies, up 9 percent since 2020.
In the National Education Association’s Ranking of the States 2020 and Estimates of School Statistics 2021, Indiana’s average teacher salaries dropped to 42nd in the U.S. The report also finds Indiana has also had the lowest teacher salary growth in more than two decades.
The 2020 General Assembly enacted a historic budget for K – 12 public schools that, combined with federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan, marks a significant increase in funding. However, ISTA continues to advocate that this commitment to adequately funding public schools and raising teacher compensation is only the first step in addressing the teacher shortage. It will take a long-term strategy to regain Indiana’s competitiveness with our neighboring states.
While pay is an important indicator in Indiana’s teacher shortage, a strong body of research, along with clear realities in districts across the state, shows that working conditions and lack of respect are even more predictive of teachers’ career decisions (for example, transferring schools and districts or leaving the profession altogether). Collective bargaining through local associations used to include matters such as class size, curriculum, prep time, professional development and a variety of other factors closely correlated to student learning, but when these rights were removed from bargaining a decade ago educators’ voices were severely weakened in the process.
ISTA remains committed to elevating the teaching profession back to its previous standing through meaningful and permanent salary increases for all educators statewide. Educators deserve competitive pay for their hard work on behalf of Hoosier kids. Furthermore, ISTA aims to regain some working conditions under bargaining rights so that educators have a say in their profession and in their passion for helping students learn.
Learn more about the advocacy work we’re doing at InvestInEducationIN.org.