Aldeman & Dachille: What Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Mean for the Teacher Labor Market? 5 Predictions, and 4 Strategies for Districts

What will happen to the teacher labor market in the wake of COVID-19?

While it’s too early to know for sure, the latest estimates project that state budgets may lose 18 to 23 percent of their general fund revenues. Cuts of that magnitude would make the coming recession even worse than the last two. With those figures in mind, here are five predictions for the teacher labor market:

1 Average salaries will decline.

In real terms, teacher pay is still not back to its pre-2009 highs. In the short run, teachers are still getting paid under any contracts already negotiated. But going forward, districts won’t have the same resources available and may have to freeze salary schedules or reduce expenses in other ways.

2 Pension costs will rise.

With pension plans taking a $419 billion hit in the first quarter alone, states will need to increase contribution rates toward teacher pension plans, just as they did in the last recessions. That will further cut teacher take-home pay and reduce district discretionary budgets.

3 Teacher resignations rates will fall.

With the economy freezing up, teachers who otherwise might have left to pursue other opportunities will have nowhere to go. Educators have lower turnover rates than private-sector employees even in good times, but that’s especially true during recessions. The private sector laid off 26 million workers in the first weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. We aren’t seeing the same layoffs in the public sector yet, but, with few other economic opportunities available, public-sector workers like teachers are likely to stay put for now.

4 Teachers planning to retire will continue to do so.

The exceptions to the point above are public school teachers eligible for pension benefits. While educators or their partners may be facing other economic hardships, pension benefits are secure. If anything, older teachers with the option to retire may be even more likely to do so than under normal circumstances, given the sudden changes to what it means to be a teacher, not to mention any potential threats to their own health and safety.

5 New teachers will have a harder time finding jobs.

Given all the above factors, districts will still need to hire new teachers, particularly for schools and subjects with higher turnover. But the suddenly tight labor market will be good news for districts seeking to hire and bad news for teacher candidates looking for a job, who are now competing for far fewer spots.

On the whole, these dynamics trend toward a more competitive teacher labor market, and research has shown that teachers who start their careers during a recession are more likely to be effective.

So, how should districts prepare? We see four potential strategies for districts to thrive in this new environment:

1 Leverage data in teacher hiring:

A larger applicant pool is a missed opportunity if districts don’t have the systems in place to identify the strongest candidates. When school leaders are not engaged in a data-driven selection process, districts can miss out on high-potential candidates and screen out qualified minority candidates. Indicators like a candidate’s work history show promise in predicting which teachers will perform well and be retained. The most successful districts will be those that make the shift to data-driven hiring.

2 Incentivize early notice:

Given that the most promising candidates generally secure jobs earlier in the hiring season, districts need to project their vacancies early. A financial incentive for notice of retirements and resignations by April can boost a district’s ability to benefit from a competitive applicant pool.

3 Rethink retention:

Many districts have come to view higher retention as an end in itself. However, voluntary attrition of low-performing teachers can significantly increase student outcomes, especially when districts also retain their highest performers. Thus, districts should focus on retaining the highest-rated teachers in their communities.

4 Collaborate with teacher prep sources:

In past recessions, the changes in teacher labor markets have occurred unevenly across subject areas. Thus, it will be especially important for districts to work with teacher prep programs to ensure that the supply of future candidates by subject matches the district’s projected needs. Now may also be a good time for districts to double down on their relationships with their most effective alternative certification programs, which have historically recruited more successfully during recessions.

Ultimately, while this crisis presents many challenges for districts, it may also provide an opportunity. Those places that are able to adapt to the changing teacher labor market now can have a lasting positive impact on student learning in years to come.

Chad Aldeman is a senior associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners and the editor of TeacherPensions.org. Lauren Dachilleis a former member of the human capital team at D.C. Public Schools and the founder and CEO of Nimble, a developer of user-friendly, data-driven software tools for K-12 hiring.

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