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EDITORIAL: CCSD teacher shortage is a problem of retention, not recruitment

If the Clark County School District retained teachers as well as it hired them, it wouldn’t have a teacher shortage.

The 2023-24 school year starts in three weeks. The district expects to have around 300,000 students. But it’s likely that more than 10 percent of students won’t begin the year in a classroom with a licensed teacher. The district currently has more than 1,200 openings for teachers.

It’s worth noting that the district has hired hundreds of new teachers and staff in recent years even as enrollment has fallen.

The vacancies, however, are typically seen as evidence of a hiring crisis. But a deeper look reveals a different picture.

District data shows that recruiting efforts have seen significant successes. During the 2019-20 school year, district officials attracted just more than 2,000 teachers for the selection pool. This year, they recruited more than 4,800, a major increase. The district also “hired 20 percent more teachers than the previous year,” according to a presentation for the School Board.

But the teacher shortage is worse than in past years. In the 2019-20 school year, 95.4 percent of classrooms had a licensed teacher. That number rose to 97.5 percent in 2020-21. But it fell to 94 percent this past school year.

There’s a disconnect here. Imagine you’re trying to fill a five-gallon bucket. Despite pouring more and more water into it, the water level continues to drop. What then? It would be foolhardy to keep pouring water into the bucket without finding and patching the obvious hole.

That’s analogous to the district’s problem. Around 2,000 teachers left the district during the past school year, according to the Clark County Education Association. The district does a great job bringing teachers in but a poor job of keeping them.

Once you understand the real problem, the solutions start to look different. For instance, increasing the salary scale isn’t going to do much. The district had fewer vacancies before it substantially increased starting teacher pay last year. In addition, incoming teachers know what the pay scale is when they join. It’s not a second-year pay cut that’s driving them to quit.

The evidence suggests that teachers don’t like something about the job conditions. District bureaucrats have handcuffed teachers when it comes to classroom management and allowing them to create an environment conducive to learning. Superintendent Jesus Jara and the Legislature’s past push for restorative justice dramatically increased school violence. If teachers felt safer, they would be less likely to quit. Mr. Jara’s disastrous grading policy, like the “minimum F,” undercuts teachers’ authority.

Improvements in those areas will boost teacher retention.

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