The Key to Solving the Teacher Labor Shortage: Online Learning

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A New Study from the Clayton Christensen Institute Illustrates Promise of Online Learning to Meet Demand for Quality Teachers Across the U.S.

For more than 50 years, schools across the country have faced a decline in teacher quality and – despite an overall teacher surplus – chronic local and position-specific shortages. New research from the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation shows that online learning could hold the key to providing the quality teacher labor supply that schools so desperately need.

Solving the Nation’s Teacher Shortage: How Online Learning Can Fix the Broken Teacher Labor Market unpacks the compounding reasons behind teacher shortages to focus on the solution: online learning. By allowing educators to reach students from anywhere in the country, online learning creates a new degree of flexibility and productivity among teachers, while also making the field more attractive to new teachers.

“The teacher labor market suffers from a massive coordination problem,” says author Mallory Dwinal, founder of the Oxford Day Academy and former research fellow at the Christensen Institute. “Districts struggle to find one type of teacher at the same time that another type of teacher struggles to find a district that will hire her. Layered on top of these challenges, the falling quality of the average teacher only further exacerbates the consequences of resulting teacher vacancies.”

To expedite the process of solving the nation’s teacher labor shortage crisis, the Christensen Institute recommends policymakers prioritize three initiatives:

1. Develop “Course Access” programs allowing enrollment in a combination of traditional and online settings to enable high-quality teachers to increase their reach (and compensation).
2. Replace seat-time requirements for online and blended learning with content and skill-mastery requirements.
3. Provide districts with resources for evaluating technology options so education leaders can invest their finite resources wisely.

“Online learning platforms are already transforming the K-12 classroom,” said Thomas Arnett, a research fellow at the Christensen Institute. “With policymakers’ support, we have a chance to make those programs more accessible and effective, drawing highly-skilled professionals back into the field with the opportunity to reach children across the country – regardless of geography.”

The full study can be found on the Christensen Institute website at Follow the conversation on Twitter at #teachershortage and #onlinelearning.

The Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation ( is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank dedicated to improving the world through disruptive innovation. Founded on the theories of Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen, the Institute offers a unique framework for addressing complex social issues like education and health care.

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Hayden Hill
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