COVID-19 and the Composition of the Massachusetts Teacher Workforce

Authors: Andrew Bacher-Hicks, Olivia Chi, and Alexis Orellana

Project Summary

The COVID-19 crisis has created unprecedented disruption for school systems, educators, and the students they serve. The pandemic-related challenges had the potential to alter both the supply of and demand for teachers, particularly in Massachusetts which was an early epicenter of the pandemic. The following analysis examines the extent to which the composition of the teacher workforce changed in Massachusetts during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors compare data from the 2020-2021 year to historical data, evaluating the extent to which patterns in teacher turnover and teacher hiring during the first year of the pandemic differed from past years.

Key Findings

  • Teacher turnover has remained stable over the last five years in Massachusetts, though some districts, particularly in the western part of the state, did see higher rates of turnover between Spring 2020 and Fall 2020
  • A larger share of early-career teachers, Black and Latinx teachers, and teachers in high-poverty schools stayed than in prior years. In contrast, there were small increases in turnover among the most experienced teachers, White teachers, and teachers in schools serving the most economically advantaged student populations.
  • Racial and ethnic diversity continues to increase among newly hired teachers in Massachusetts, driven in part during 2020-21 by the creation of the emergency license in the state.

Implications and Recommendations

The patterns of increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the teacher workforce suggest that students of color in the state likely had greater access to teachers of color during the pandemic than in prior years. This is something the authors intend to continue to investigate and document. It is also notable that the groups with decreases in turnover were the teachers and schools with the highest historical rates of turnover, therefore reducing some of the existing gaps in teacher retention. These findings suggest that there may be important lessons to learn from these schools that were able to lower turnover during the pandemic

Finally, although the stable overall turnover rates and promising increases in racial and ethnic diversity among the teacher workforce are reassuring, an important limitation to these findings is that the authors only examine the teacher workforce through the fall of 2020. It is still too early to tell how the workforce responded into the fall of the 2021-2022 school year, which is a topic that they plan to address in future analysis. Additional work underway, in continued partnership with the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, will also examine more comprehensively the impact of the emergency licensure on the composition of the workforce and on teaching and learning.