Commentary on Education Schools and Teacher Supply/Demand


More than 2,500 teachers in Wisconsin worked in schools using emergency licenses during the 2017-18 school year, according to DPI data.

In the Madison Metropolitan School District, 109 teachers were on emergency licenses during the 2016-17 school year after 67 the preceding school year.

Teachers who work with some of the state’s most vulnerable students, including people with disabilities and those learning English as a second language, are often likely to have emergency licenses. Emergency licenses are also often awarded for math and science teachers.

“There are high needs areas like special education that have been high needs areas for the last 30 years,” said Kimber Wilkerson, faculty director of the School of Education’s Teacher Education Center. “But it’s exacerbated in the last five or 10 years.”

Wilkerson said that in some rural Wisconsin school districts that might only have one or two special education teachers, all might be working under emergency licenses.

DPI’s DeGuire said looking at the number of vacancies school districts have that go unfilled also illustrates the teacher shortage problem.

Nationally, some researchers have argued the teaching shortage is worse than previously understood and disproportionately affects high poverty schools, according to a paper by the Economic Policy Institute from earlier this year.

“Lack of sufficient, qualified teachers and staff instability threaten students’ ability to learn and reduce teachers’ effectiveness, and high teacher turnover consumes economic resources that could be better deployed elsewhere,” wrote Emma Garcia and Elaine Weiss, the paper’s authors. “The teacher shortage makes it more difficult to build a solid reputation for teaching and to professionalize it, which further contributes to perpetuating the shortage.”

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has waived thousands of elementary teacher reading content knowledge requirements in recent years (“Foundations of Reading”).