Arizona has taken action on a strategy that many in and around K-12 see as an essential step toward easing shortages by creating alternative pathways into the profession.
Individuals without a bachelor’s degree can now start and complete training to become a teacher while simultaneously finishing their degree. And educators with expired licenses now have more options for renewing their certifications so they can return to the classroom. Overall, the new law gives public schools greater options for recruiting teachers, principals and other educational leaders, Gov. Doug Ducey said in a statement after signing the bill into law last week.
“This bill will provide options that can and should diversify the teacher and school leader talent pipeline,” said Tonya Strozier, principal of Holladay Fine Arts Magnet Elementary School in Tucson USD. “What an incredible win for students that have traditionally been on the perimeter.”
The new law also allows Arizona districts to create their own leadership preparation program for principals, assistant principals, supervisors and other school-level leaders. “It is difficult to recruit in a border community, and for our model, which is dual language, it’s even more difficult,” said Luis A. Perales, a leader at Mexicayotl Academy of Excellence, a charter school. “Having more certification pathways will help us train and develop leadership positions internally and create high-quality pathways for former students and community members who want to enter the classroom.”
In 2017, the state enacted another strategy that has been popular nationwide for recruiting more teachers. More than 3,000 people have participated in the “Subject Matter Expert” pathway that allows professionals who have significant experience in specific subject matter and a college degree to get certified to teach after passing a background check.
How a nation is grappling with teacher shortages
Some 44% of public schools have at least one teacher vacancy, and one-tenth have openings in 10% of their classrooms, according to the Institute of Education Sciences. More than half of those vacancies are a result of resignations. Overall, there are 600,000 positions unfilled across the country. But supply-and-demand pressures aren’t creating severe shortages everywhere or in all subjects, according to an October 2021 report, “In Demand: The Reak Teacher Shortages and How to Solve Them,” from FutureEd, a Georgetown University think tank, and the consulting firm EducationCounsel.
Mathematics, special education, foreign languages and science continue to see the most severe and chronic shortages. “Efforts to produce more teachers overall could wind up increasing the supply of teachers in grades, subjects, and locations where there are already surpluses, rather than addressing schools’ actual instructional needs,” said the report’s author, Sandi Jacobs, a principal at EducationCounsel. “As a result, these efforts may further widen inequities in the distribution of teacher talent.”
Prospective high school teachers typically graduate with a major in their content area, which–particularly in science and math–makes these candidates attractive to employees outside education who can offer higher salaries. A 2019 Brookings Institution analysis found that science, technology, engineering and math majors take the biggest wage hit for choosing to teach compared to other college graduates.
The recent politicization of education, including efforts in several states to restrict discussions of race and LGBTQ topics, is also making college students increasingly reluctant to study education. Enrollment in colleges of education fell during COVID as students experiencing financial hardships chose to study more lucrative career fields, Jacqueline Rodriguez, vice president for research, policy and advocacy at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, told District Administration in February.
“Educators are feeling undervalued for what they’re giving to every student,” Rodriguez says. “They have become mentors, coaches, guidance counselors and advisors–they have become the support mechanism for students beyond the delivery of instruction and class management.”
In Florida, more than 50% of new teachers are certified through alternative programs. County Public Schools operates its own alternative program, which is free to teachers and provides participants with mentors, coaching and leadership opportunities. “These alternative certification teachers often have strong content knowledge but need substantial training in pedagogy, classroom management and student development,” Superintendent Kamela Patton said. “Like in other school districts, we now must take on the task of training new teachers to deliver instruction with no additional funding or support.”
The Arkansas Teacher Corps allows people already working in districts, such as paraprofessionals and volunteers, to begin working toward their teaching licenses, says Lizzy Hetherington, the organization’s director of teacher development. The organization has seen a slight uptick in applications to its three-year training program, which provides new teachers with ongoing coaching even after they move to their first classroom. The Teacher Corps. makes heavy use of video so its teaching candidates can film themselves in class and get feedback from their coaches.