A lot happens every year in U.S. public schools, and it can be hard to keep track of it all. To monitor trends in public education, the RAND Corporation fields over a dozen surveys annually to teachers, principals, and superintendents who are members of the American Educator Panels. These five charts taught us the most about the state of public education right now: staff turnover; teacher well-being; guns in schools; quality of academic instruction; and politics in schools.
Educator Turnover Has Increased Nationally
Despite much speculation that educator turnover would increase after the COVID-19 pandemic first shuttered schools in March 2020, turnover held steady through the 2020–2021 school year. But district leaders told us it rose substantially in 2021–2022. Upcoming surveys will help answer whether the heightened attrition observed in 2021–2022 was a one-time blip or whether this is the new normal.
Far More Teachers Than American Working Adults Experience Frequent Job-Related Stress
By spring 2023 the proportion of teachers who experienced frequent job-related stress and symptoms of depression went down from 2021, approaching pre-pandemic levels. However, the proportion of teachers experiencing burnout did not change. We'll soon learn if these trends continue. It is worrisome that job stress and burnout are so common for two reasons. One is the negative impact on teachers' health. The second is that teachers experiencing stress and burnout have less capacity to support students and are more likely to consider leaving their jobs.
Figure 2: Well-Being of Teachers and Working Adults
Frequent job-related stress
Difficulty coping with job-related stress
Symptoms of depression
Lack of resilience
NOTE: This figure shows the weighted percentage of teachers (in blue) and the weighted percentage of the general population of employed adults (in green) coded as having or experiencing each of the indicators of well-being, based on their survey responses. How we measured each well-being indicator is described in the “How This Analysis Was Conducted“ section at the end of this publication. Teacher (n = 1,439); working adults (n = 527). Source: Teacher Well-Being and Intentions to Leave: Findings from the 2023 State of the American Teacher Survey
Math Teachers Are Skipping Over Important Content
No matter what their curriculum materials or academic standards, math teachers still make decisions every day in every class about what content to teach or not in their classrooms. In fact, since 2019–2020 it's become more common for math teachers to skip math content that's covered by their state's math standards. And, even worse, it's most common for math teachers of students of color and high-poverty students to skip this kind of math content, which could move these students further behind their peers.
Figure 3: What Proportion of Secondary Math Teachers in Spring 2020, Spring 2021, and Spring 2022 Reported Skipping Standards-Aligned Math Content Occasionally or Frequently by…
(a) student body racial/ethnic composition?
|School year||Mostly SoC||Mostly white|
(b) student poverty levels?
|School year||High-poverty schools||Low-poverty schools|
NOTE: This figure shows the proportion of middle and high school math teachers (i.e., secondary teachers) who reported skipping content occasionally or frequently by (a) student poverty levels and (b) student body racial/ethnic composition in spring 2020 (n = 790), spring 2021 (n = 593), and spring 2022 (n = 438) based on the survey item: ”Do you ever skip standards-aligned math content in your instruction?” We distributed our spring 2020 surveys just as schools began closing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We interpret these results as reflective of a prepandemic context. The displayed percentages were produced using separate weights specific to each survey. Although the cross-sectional comparisons we make between years are useful for describing trends, the weights we employed do not properly account for changes across years or overlap among the sampling pools. Because of rounding, the difference between the proportion of secondary teachers in high- and low-poverty schools during the 2021–2022 school year who reported skipping frequently or occasionally (17.4 percentage points) appears slightly exaggerated by this graph. Source: Getting Students to and Through Advanced Math: Which Students Have Access and How State and District Leaders Can Help Address Challenges
State Restrictions on Classroom Discussions of Hot-Button Topics Are Having a Widespread Effect
About a third of U.S. states have passed restrictions on how teachers can discuss race- and gender-related topics in the classroom. One year after the first restriction was passed, about a quarter of teachers nationally said that these restrictions were influencing their curriculum choices and instructional practices. While teachers in states with restrictions were more likely to say that these policies were influencing their instruction than teachers in states without restrictions, one-fifth of teachers in states without restrictions still said that these limitations affected their instructional choices, indicating that the influence of these restrictions extend beyond the states where they are passed.
Figure 4: Proportion of Teachers Reporting That Limitations on What Topics Teachers Can Address Have Influenced Their Choice of Curriculum Materials or Instructional Practices to a Slight, Moderate, or Large Extent
|Teacher characteristics||Across all states||In a state that has enacted restrictions||In a state that has not enacted restrictions|
|Teachers reporting that their district had enacted limitations||63%|
|Teachers reporting that their state had enacted limitations||52%|
NOTE: We asked teachers, “To what extent have the limitations placed on what topics teachers can address influenced your choice of curriculum materials or instructional practices, regardless of where you teach?” These percentages reflect the proportion of teachers who responded “to a slight extent,” “to a moderate extent,” or “to a large extent.” Teachers were also able to respond, “Not at all” or “N/A: I am not aware of limitations placed on race- or gender-related topics by states or school systems.” (n all teachers across all states = 7,768); (n = all teachers in a state that had enacted restrictions = 2,414); (n all teachers in a state that had not enacted restrictions = 5,350). Source: Walking on Eggshells—Teachers' Responses to Classroom Limitations on Race- or Gender-Related Topics
Teachers Are Divided About Whether Teachers Should Be Allowed to Carry Guns at School
Large increases in the number of school shootings over the last 20 years is one of the most distressing trends in public schooling. Just as our country at large is divided about guns, so too are public school teachers. In a fall 2022 survey, 54 percent of teachers thought that teachers carrying guns would make schools less safe, 20 percent thought it would make schools more safe, and the remaining 26 percent thought it would make schools neither more nor less safe. Male teachers in rural areas were the most likely to say they would carry a gun to school if they were allowed to do so.
Melissa Kay Diliberti is an assistant policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation as well as a Ph.D. student at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. Elizabeth D. Steiner is an education policy researcher at RAND, and Julia Kaufman is associate research department director for the Behavioral and Policy Sciences Department and a senior policy researcher at RAND. Ashley Woo is an assistant policy researcher at RAND and a Ph.D. student at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. Heather Schwartz is director of the Pre-K to 12 educational systems program and a senior policy researcher at RAND.
Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.