In a couple of months, the Clark County School District will begin hiring teachers for the next school year.  Will they find enough teachers to fill the current vacancies and the anticipated openings due to retirements and resignations?

By all accounts, the teacher shortage Nevada faced last year is likely to get worse if we do not take steps now to change the trajectory.

This challenge is not unique to Nevada.  Across the country baby-boomer teachers are retiring in greater numbers.  At the same time, many teacher preparation programs report a significant decrease in enrollment – not as many people want to become teachers.  On top of all this, there are increasing numbers of school-aged children.  According to the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the school-aged population in Nevada will grow by nearly 300,000 students by the Year 2030.

There are no easy answers, and Nevada will have to resist the temptation to resort to simplistic or traditional solutions.  For example, the shortage is not simply the result of poor marketing.  While we certainly need to change the perception of teaching as a profession, we have to address the very nature of the work and the organizational paradigms that are not meeting the needs of a new generation of teachers.  Thus, spending millions of dollars on billboards and television ads praising the teaching profession may help, but it is unlikely to solve the problem unless other changes are made in how we support teachers and cultivate a different employee value proposition.

Simply raising teacher salaries also may not have the desired effect in the long run.  To be sure, teachers should be paid more, and increasing compensation either through salary increases or incentives is likely to decrease vacancies in the short term.  However, the primary goal is not just to fill every teacher position; it is to fill every position with an effective teacher.  In other words, the schools and districts should not address the teacher vacancy problem without solving long-term teacher quality concerns.

Almost paradoxically, failure to raise the standards in the profession generally may aggravate the problem of teacher shortages down the road.  If fewer people enter teaching because it is not held in high regard or if more people enter because it is easy to get a job as a teacher, then focusing on quantity and not quality will not solve the talent management problem.  Not only do we need more people willing to be teachers, we need more of the best and brightest joining a profession in which they can find satisfaction working in high-performing cultures.

On February 9th, for the second time this year, Nevada Succeeds will convene a group of legislators, educators, business leaders, and other stakeholders to tackle the various challenges related to teacher retention and recruitment.  This Advisory Group of the What’s Next Nevada Project will then recommend specific steps for the legislature and school districts to take moving forward.

We have no illusions about changing the teaching profession overnight.  But the hope of the What’s Next Nevada Project is that a group of the community’s and state’s leaders can come together to address serious challenges facing public education and help bring about improvements that will have lasting positive effects for our children.