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What's behind the worker shortage in American schools

Coffin Elementary School is facing staffing challenges schools are facing due to COVID exposures and quarantines. (Staff photo by Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
Coffin Elementary School is facing staffing challenges schools are facing due to COVID exposures and quarantines. (Staff photo by Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Schools are facing a shortage of bus drivers. Custodians. Substitute teachers. Cafeteria workers.

“I’m hearing about teachers sacrificing their planning periods to cover for classrooms that don’t have an assigned teacher available. Administrators stepping into classrooms, or into school buses or lunch lines,” school finance reporter Mark Lieberman says. “School districts going out to the community and asking parents to step into these various roles.”

What does this mean for educators?

“Educators are experts at this. They will find a way to get enough adults into the classroom,” education reporter Koby Levin says. “The cost though is that folks end up doing coverage that’s really outside of the scope of their duties, and that means they can’t work on the kind of programming that’s going to help students recover from the pandemic.”

It’s a cost that is shaping the entire education system.

“When we’re missing key players in schools – folks like bus drivers, special education aides – the whole system just gets spread a little bit thinner,” Levin adds.

Today, On Point: When the system is spread thin, who suffers most? We navigate the impact of a worker shortage in American schools.

Guests

Alena Zachery-Ross, superintendent of Ypsilanti Community Schools in Michigan. (@AZacheryRoss)

Koby Levin, reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering inequity in schools. (@levin_koby)

Also Featured

Caroline Dylewski, director of nutrition services at Warren Consolidated Schools in Michigan.

Betty Nostrant, stay-at-home mom in Flint, Michigan.

From The Reading List

Education Week: “The School Staffing Crisis Won’t End Any Time Soon” — “Staffing shortages that have been crushing schools for months—with frequent absences and unfilled openings for teachers, instructional aides, bus drivers, custodians, substitutes and more—are getting worse, not better, new survey results show.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.