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Investigating Teacher Shortages, and the Importance of Herd Immunity

Will There Really Be Teacher Shortages in CT?

In Connecticut and across the country, a lot of ink has been spilled this summer about concerns regarding a growing teacher shortage. The stories often can seem anecdotal: A Hartford Courant story from July describes how teachers in Danbury have to do more with less and feel stretched too thin. The article adds that, alongside pandemic stresses, teachers in underfunded districts have faced low-salaries and high-need students, leading last year to accelerated turnovers. In national news, Education Week reported in July that solving teacher shortages was one of the critical platforms of this year's convention of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Another Education Week article later in July referred to a "staffing crisis," relying upon a survey of opinions among principals and district leaders. Across the country and here in Connecticut, we’ve heard teachers say that they're likely to quit. Administrators have reported having a hard time filling vacancies.

And these concerns are certainly legitimatebut are the data supporting the fears about retention rates? Are they really more acute post-pandemic?

To answer those questions, our affiliate, Education Reform Now CT (ERN CT), has solicited and considered data on teacher retention in public school districts from the Connecticut Teachers' Retirement Board. In absolute numbers for Fiscal Year 2021, Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury, and Norwalk were the five districts to lose the most teachers. But as a percentage of their total teaching population, these losses were less remarkableranging from 8.9% in Waterbury to 14% in Hartford. That's as compared to districts such as Eastford (which lost 25% of its teachers last year), Norwich (21%), and Woodbridge (almost 18%). Moreover, when we look longitudinally at the retention rates in the state’s 5 largest districts, it appears that each of them is already recovering from the dips in 2021. (Districts are also engaging in active recruiting efforts, like this one in Hartford that brings in teachers from Puerto Rico.)

Is teacher retention in Connecticut a genuine problem? Looks like there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Stay tuned as we delve deeper in the coming weeks.

The Importance of Herd Immunity

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance with updated COVID-19 protocols for schools. Significantly, unless community transmission is high, the CDC suggests moving past test-to-stay policieswhich allowed students to continue in-person learning after exposure as long as they tested negative and showed no symptoms. The shift reflects a new level of leniency that the country has reached due to high levels of both vaccination and previous infection. According to coverage by NPR, one CDC official observed that we now have high levels of population immunity, with about 95% of the population either being vaccinated or having had COVID. This reduces the need to keep differentiating between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in policy making.

The issue of herd immunity is one that's all-too-familiar here in Connecticut. Last year, the legislature had to pass a law ending non-medical exemptions to school immunization requirements because too many schools had become unsafe when they dropped below 95% vaccination levels for diseases such as measles. Now, polio, a disease eliminated in the US since 1979, has been detected in New York. As the New York Times reports, this spread is thought to be connected to unvaccinated populations, which can circulate and acquire mutations of the virus. On Sunday, CT Senate President Martin Looney and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff issued a joint statement regarding the detection of polio just over the state's border. After strengthening Connecticut's vaccination requirements in the face of a New York measles outbreak, we are now seeing, "the possibility of another resurgence of an eradicated virus because of the actions of a vocal and dangerous minority of anti-vaxxers," they said. Absolutely right.

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