- The Pennsylvania Department of Education this week announced a three-year, comprehensive teacher shortage strategic plan dubbed “The Foundation of Our Economy.” The announcement follows a bipartisan agreement by state lawmakers to raise education funding by $1.8 billion.
- The plan calls for expanding access to high-quality teacher preparation and professional development opportunities, streamlining certification processes, and increasing diversity and representation in the teacher workforce.
- The Pennsylvania plan comes as states nationwide take steps to address teacher shortages. In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear this week signed legislation easing emergency certification renewal and calling for an alternative certification pathway using a residency program. And in Arizona, a law signed last week by Gov. Doug Ducey removed the bachelor's degree requirement to teach in a classroom full time.
The local and regional nuances of teacher shortages mean there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to solving the problem.
“In reality, local context drives a lot more of the specific needs of schools and districts,” said Shannon Holston, chief of policy and programs at the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit that works to improve teacher quality.
Data released in March by the National Center for Education Statistics showed 44% of public schools were affected by full- or part-time teacher vacancies, and 57% said they found themselves having to assign teachers to work outside their job descriptions.
The highest vacancies were reported in special education (45%), general elementary (31%) and substitute teaching (20%). Furthermore, just over half of schools said resignations rather than retirement were a leading cause of vacancies.
“Better data can help inform" efforts to address teacher shortages, Holston said, adding that solid data is a positive part of what Pennsylvania and some other states are doing. "Colorado and Illinois have really been leaders in terms of publishing really good supply and demand data about the teacher workforce.”
Holston also sees promise in Pennsylvania and Kentucky’s efforts to build out stronger, more diverse teacher pipelines.
“There’s a lot of research about the positive effects of having teachers of color in our classrooms,” she said. It’s also crucial to include incentives to support district hiring and to build out pathways and residencies to ensure teachers are well prepared, Holston said.
State efforts that have involved dropping or changing licensure requirements, however, are more troubling to some. About 12 states have done that over the past year, Holston said.
“That is of concern, because this puts the burden on students," she said. "Often, students of color and students from low-income backgrounds experience teachers who are less qualified or out of [their] field or inexperienced.”
Rather than cutting licensure requirements, which might solve short-term problems but create longer-term ones, Holston said NCTQ would encourage states to “try to shore up and build stronger pipelines and really understand their data better.” Doing so can can help align teacher supply with local demands, particularly in areas like math, science, special education and English learners.
The American Federation of Teachers, a teacher union representing 1.7 million members, also recently issued a report titled “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?” that outlines strategies for recruiting and retaining teachers. Among them:
- Increasing salaries and benefits.
- Shrinking the 20% pay gap that exists between teachers and their college-educated peers in other professions, referred to as the “teacher pay penalty.”
- Diversifying educator pipelines using strategies like grow-your-own and mentoring programs.
- Lowering class sizes.
- Ending a “test and punish” culture around standardized testing.
- Reducing administrative paperwork.
- Giving teachers and school staff more professional respect via added opportunities for planning, collaboration, professional development and a voice in decision-making.
- Embracing community school models that serve the whole child and whole family.
Teacher shortages have been a growing concern for states and school districts over the past decade, driven by factors including low pay and declining respect for the profession. The last two years have seen education’s labor crisis deepen further, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, political controversies over race and LGBTQ issues being discussed in schools, and fears about safety in the wake of mass shootings.
In fact, job dissatisfaction among current pre-K-12 teachers spiked from 45% to 79% since the start of the pandemic, according to a poll released last week by AFT. Respondents cited workload, compensation, work conditions, disruptions and lack of support among reasons for their negative sentiments.