Shortages and Inequities in the Philadelphia Public School Teacher Workforce

Publication date: August 2020

Authors: Jill C. Pierce, Anna Shaw-Amoah and David Lapp


To facilitate student achievement, schools need a strong, well-prepared teacher workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic and amplified calls for racial justice have also increased the public’s recognition of the crucial roles educators and education can play in children’s lives and in society more broadly. Unfortunately, Philadelphia’s public schools faced teacher shortages even before the start of the pandemic. Recruiting and retaining highly qualified educators has long been a challenge in the city.

This brief provides an overview of the status of the teaching workforce in Philadelphia’s 320 district and charter public schools. First, we discuss the extent of teacher shortages in Philadelphia. We then examine racial and ethnic inequities in the city’s teacher supply and distribution. In the third section, we outline known barriers to successful teacher recruitment and retention in city schools. We conclude with implications and recommendations for Philadelphia to recruit and retain a qualified, more diverse teaching workforce.

Key Findings

  • Philadelphia has fewer teachers per student than state or national averages. Based on RFA’s analysis, schools in the city of Philadelphia would have needed to add over 1,500 additional teachers to reach the state average student/teacher ratio.

  • The need for teachers in Philadelphia is growing. While the number of teachers in Philadelphia overall has declined to over 1,200 (-9%) between 2009-10 and 2018-19, the number of students has increased by over 5,400 students (+3%).

  • To keep pace with the need for teachers, the School District of Philadelphia is increasingly relying on emergency teaching permits while charter schools have relied on more inexperienced or uncertified teachers. The number of emergency teaching permits used in the School District grew considerably in 2015-16 and 2016-17, while the number in charter schools remained relatively flat.

  • Philadelphia’s teaching force does not reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the city’s students. The School District of Philadelphia has among the most diverse teaching forces in the state. However, Philadelphia’s students are far more diverse in terms of race and ethnicity than those who teach them.

  • Within Philadelphia district and charter schools, Black and Hispanic students are taught by more inexperienced and uncertified teachers.

  • Fewer candidates are enrolling in or completing teacher preparation programs in Pennsylvania. Nationally, enrollment in teacher preparation programs declined by 34% over 10 years. During that same time, enrollment in Pennsylvania declined by 67%.

  • Teacher turnover is a serious problem for Philadelphia, where an average of 27% of teachers moved schools within the School District of Philadelphia or left the district all together. Nationally, the average rate of moving schools or leaving the profession is 16%.

Implications and Recommendations

  • There are targeted strategies that have been shown to help with recruitment and retention of teachers, many of which the school District of Philadelphia is already testing. Some strategies include: defraying the costs of becoming a teacher, developing pipelines for teachers of color, incentivizing teachers to teach at high-turnover schools, bolstering induction and mentorship programs, and providing leadership opportunities for teachers. Additional strategies are described in the brief.

  • To be most effective, recruitment and retention efforts should be coordinated and comprehensive.



PERC Brief (2018)Teacher Mobility in the School District of Philadelphia, 2009-10 through 2015-16

PERC Report (2019) Principal Mobility in Philadelphia Traditional and Charter Public Schools, 2007-08 through 2015-16

The Philadelphia Education Research Consortium makes its home at Research for Action,

a nonprofit education research organization.

100 South Broad Street, 7th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19110


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