New nationwide call to action aims to help solve teacher shortages

K-12 leaders are urged to work with higher ed to create residency programs where student-teachers work as substitutes, paraprofessionals and tutors.
By: | March 28, 2022

Teacher shortages continue to place as much pressure on K-12 leaders as any of the other large and complicated challenges of the pandemic. In several big California districts, for example, 10% of classroom positions were empty, forcing leaders to hire more teachers with incomplete credentials, a recent survey found.

South Carolina last week launched a new solution and ramped up two existing programs designed to fill its classrooms with qualified teachers. Texas’ education agency this month created a statewide Teacher Vacancy Task Force, comprising superintendents and other educators, to investigate the causes of and develop new approaches to solving the shortages. And just about every district is planning to use a portion of the latest round of ESSER relief funds to build up its workforce, according to another study.

On Monday, the Biden Administration—calling the shortages one of education’s most “critical challenges”—issued a nationwide call to action for district leaders, higher education and state policymakers to make solving the problem quickly a top priority, with the backing of American Rescue Plan funds.

“I have always known that a well-prepared, well-supported, well-compensated, and diverse educator workforce is the foundation for student success,” U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Monday. “Educator vacancies and other staff shortages represent a real challenge as our schools work to recover, falling hardest on students of color, students in rural communities, students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, and multilingual learners.”

The administration is encouraging K-12 leaders to work more closely with colleges of education to create residency programs so student-teachers can begin their clinical experience as substitutes, paraprofessionals and tutors. Districts should also use these student-teachers as another set of qualified educators they can place in front of classrooms to help students rebound from the pandemic’s academic and emotional disruptions, Cardona said.

States are being urged to use new U.S. Department of Labor standards that make teaching a registered apprenticeship and allow teaching candidates to earn a solid wage while building their skills. The administration also wants states to increase investment in teacher residency partnerships between K-12 and higher education. Another key tool will be forgiving the student loans of teachers who, for example, commit to public service such as teaching in high-needs schools for a certain number of years.

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The Department of Education is sharing several examples of how higher ed and K-12 are partnering to tackle the problem with COVID relief funds:

  1. Dallas College is about to launch the first paid teacher residency apprenticeship in Texas to fill short-term vacancies in partner school districts and build a talent pipeline for underserved schools. The college’s students will be paired with mentors as they work as residents, tutors and substitutes in local schools.
  2. In New York, Adelphi University’s teaching residents co-teach in classrooms several days per week and can also fill in as substitutes. Many of the residents have been hired as permanent substitute teachers and some are also providing academic coaching and tutoring for students.
  3. The University of Colorado, Denver’s four-year undergraduate residency pays teacher candidates to work part-time as paraeducator interns and then as paid residents during their senior year. The program, which enrolls about 50 students per year, focuses on diverse, first-generation teacher candidates.
  4. Teaching residents from underserved communities have been recruited after earning their undergraduate degrees at the University of Southern California. They receive full tuition from the university and a living stipend and professional development from the school district in which they work.
  5. Virginia Commonwealth University’s teaching residents start the school year with mentor teachers after completing intensive summer coursework. Residents co-teach four days per week alongside their mentors and take coursework in the evenings and on Fridays. The Richmond Teacher Residency training model tasks residents with key tasks—such as leading classroom routines—from day one. Over time, their responsibilities grow toward planning and teaching classes for an entire week.

States are backing many of these initiatives. California’s 2021-2022 budget includes $350 million in funding for its Teacher Residency Grant Program while Iowa has launched the nation’s first Teacher and Paraeducator Registered Apprenticeship Grant program with $9 million in ESSER funds. The program will train high school students and paraeducators to take the next step in their teaching careers.

And on the East Coast, the Delaware Pathways program has added education to middle school career exploration activities and also allows high school students to begin taking for-credit college courses in education.