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If Retention Is the Answer to Teacher Shortages, Talent Management Is the Solution

Professional Growth

The recent Learning Policy Institute (LPI) reports on teacher shortages have gotten a lot of attention nationally, from Education Week to NPR to the Washington Post. And with good reason; LPI’s comprehensive analysis casts “the emerging teacher shortage,” as characterized by the reports, in stark light: we face a crisis in the making. Our own forthcoming annual report on teacher shortages, based on a survey of instructional leaders across the country, only reinforces this finding.

But the picture isn’t all doom and gloom. We can overcome this crisis, according to LPI and our own analysis of the issue, with a “long-term approach” that combines efforts to attract, prepare and retain teachers.

Given my understanding of the issue, as well as what I’ve learned from the LPI report and our survey data, the most compelling and immediately addressable contributor to the shortage is teacher attrition, only a third of which we can attribute to retirement. According to LPI, the rate of attrition nationally in 2012 was almost 8%; if we can halve that rate, LPI projects we can cut demand for hiring new teachers by half annually (see the LPI report brief for details).

Of course, with a complicated problem such as the teacher shortage, the solution is commensurately multi-faceted and complex. Nevertheless, the LPI report—and our own experience—suggest that taking a few simple steps will help school systems retain more teachers. The LPI report recommends improving retention through better “mentoring, induction, working conditions, and career development.” Broad as they may read, these interventions all rely to some degree on excellent, meaningful talent management.

Rachel Fisher, Frontline’s expert on training content, contends that “talent management in education must [begin] with human capabilities, experiences, and skills that are then leveraged and supported by technology. It cannot be just one pillar, such as professional development, or performance evaluation, or mentoring, or learning communities, that make up talent management; it must be all of these.” Talent management programs should start with a good understanding of each teacher’s interests and abilities. When such programs align with professional development, mentoring, observation and even absence-management programs, school systems can create better working conditions, develop talent from within and help teachers develop their careers without having to leave the profession.

Fisher regards “technology” as a tool to leverage and support talent management. By extension, technology can help school systems address teacher shortages as a whole. As available solutions become ever more integrated, and data-management and reporting capabilities grow more robust and sophisticated, school systems can use technology to learn insights gathered from multiple sources—teacher absences, observations, recruitment data, professional development plans and more—and make informed decisions that can improve retention and help overcome the gathering teacher shortage crisis.

Erik Drobey

For the past 15 years, Erik has worked to support educators and instructional leaders.