Cover: Flux in the Educator Labor Market: Acute Staff Shortages and Projected Superintendent Departures

Flux in the Educator Labor Market: Acute Staff Shortages and Projected Superintendent Departures

Selected Findings from the Fourth American School District Panel Survey

Published Feb 15, 2022

by Heather L. Schwartz, Melissa Kay Diliberti

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Research Questions

  1. What types of staffing challenges do districts face during the 2021–2022 school year?
  2. Has the COVID-19 pandemic caused shortages among school staff? If so, for which positions are the shortages most acute?
  3. What differences exist among different district subgroups (e.g., urban, rural, high-poverty) in terms of staffing shortages?
  4. Do we observe increased turnover among superintendents during the pandemic?

Media accounts have described kindergarten through 12th grade teaching staff shortages in 2021–2022 that were severe enough to temporarily close schools for in-person instruction in some areas. Although much has been written about the negative impacts of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on teachers, less is known about the extent to which the pandemic is taking a toll on other types of educators, including superintendents. Researchers have rightly pointed out that school staff shortages vary by state and by teaching subject area, and even by school within a district. Therefore, extrapolating from isolated instances and media reports and overlooking important differences among school districts can lead to incomplete and inefficient — or even counterproductive — policy responses to resolve staffing shortages.

To obtain a national picture of the various types of staffing challenges that districts are facing in the 2021–2022 school year, RAND researchers surveyed 359 district and charter network leaders in the American School District Panel (ASDP) between October 25, 2021, and December 10, 2021.

Key Findings

  • At least 60 percent of leaders from each district subgroup (e.g., urban, suburban, or rural schools; high- and low-poverty schools) reported believing that the pandemic has caused a shortage of teachers, and nearly every district leader said the same about substitutes.
  • As of fall 2021, shortages were most acute for substitutes, bus drivers, special education teachers, and paraprofessionals.
  • Most districts — but especially urban districts and those serving predominantly students of color — have increased the number of staff that they employ, which raises concerns about a fiscal cliff once federal stimulus funds end.
  • Thirteen percent of superintendents left their jobs between the past school year and this one (2021–2022) — a rate that the authors believe reflects normal turnover. Half of the superintendents said that they would either leave in the next few years or were unsure how long they would remain in their positions.


  • Researchers, districts, and state education agencies need to watch how much staffing grows, enrollments change, and what mitigating actions districts take in the next year or two to prevent painful budget and staff cuts when federal aid expires, especially in urban districts and districts serving mostly students of color.
  • Policymakers should monitor turnover among superintendents in the coming years because it could affect district functioning and longer-term plans for school reform.
  • Districts and states can invest more in recruitment programs that diversify the teacher and substitute labor pool; expand the permanent core of substitute teachers to give more coverage when teachers are absent; develop new staffing arrangements with partners, such as out-of-school time providers, to infuse more-diverse and additional staff into schools; and improve workplace conditions to reduce turnover by surveying staff about their preferences and building more flexibility into their jobs.

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The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education and Labor and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. For this document, different permissions for re-use apply. Please refer to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation section on our permissions page.

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