Volume 29

The Emperor’s New Clothes: Stare Decisis and the Teacher Shortage Crisis

by Chris Yarrell

During the 2020-2021 academic year, the U.S. Department of Education reported teacher shortages in nearly every state, and within key subject areas, nationwide. Indeed, a recent national survey found that two-thirds of school districts report significant teacher shortages across math, science, and special education. Worse still, this labor crisis has disproportionately harmed students from low-income, racially segregated communities, where “75% of districts [have] reported a shortage.” This is a problem. As indicated by a substantial (and growing) body of social science research, a qualified teacher workforce is one of the most important factors influencing student learning and achievement.

In fact, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, in its seminal report on the relationship between teaching and learning, found that “[w]hat teachers know and can do is the most important influence on what stu-
dents learn.” Perhaps more importantly, at least for the purposes of this Note, “school reform cannot succeed unless it focuses on creating the conditions in which teachers can teach, and teach well.” Despite this growing labor crisis, reform measures at both the state and federal level have largely failed to meaningfully address the poor and unequal school conditions animating the prevailing teacher shortage crisis. This Note, in response to these failings, is the first to
argue that labor reformers should address the teacher shortage crisis by directly challenging the poor school conditions that drive it. As the Supreme Court continues its assault on labor protections more broadly, this indirect, education-centered approach to labor reform has much to recommend it.

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