Our nation’s most significant innovations stem from education. From the founding of our nation to the moon landing in 1969, from the introduction of personal computers in 1971 to the advent of the internet in 1983, such accomplishments would not have occurred without education and an educated populace. Without educators we will not continue to innovate, create, and lead the world. We have ignored the dwindling number of people entering the field of education for decades. As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of teachers exiting classrooms only continues to increase.
The teacher shortage in our country is nothing short of a crisis. As a result of significant teacher vacancies, unqualified substitute teachers are staffing many of the nation’s classrooms, especially in our schools with the greatest needs. Confidence in public schools is eroding as educators face unprecedented attacks on their work. Before it’s too late, we must shift our culture to value educators, enact policies that prioritize education, and ensure all students receive a quality education.
Solving the teacher shortage requires more than a patchwork approach. Sweeping and strategic actions based on accurate data that address workforce needs must be taken. Currently, such a bill is before Congress that addresses teacher shortages on a structural level. The proposed legislation, the EDUCATORS for America Act, builds the capacity of higher education and school districts to ensure all students have access to profession-ready educators. The act also supports the recruitment of new and diverse educators into the profession; the investment in partnerships between higher education, state, and local partners; and the innovation necessary to meet students’ evolving needs.
Introduced by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC), the EDUCATORS for America Act proposes a historic investment in the education of educators. This legislation expands federal investments by developing a $500 million state grant program and expanding partnership grants between higher education and K-12 partners to the $500 million level. The bill doubles funding provided through TEACH grants, allowing additional support to candidates, while strengthening loan forgiveness programs. The federal government and Congress have an obligation to address this national emergency, and such an investment would provide the crucial funds needed.
The educator workforce is significantly lacking in diversity, particularly regarding educators of color. The EDUCATORS for America Act provides the investments needed to facilitate greater participation in the teaching workforce, especially from communities of color. Enhanced TEACH grants and loan forgiveness are essential, as educators of color incur disproportionate debt to attend college. The new recruitment and retention program would also support students who would otherwise likely not enroll in educator preparation programs, including first-generation college students.
The current crisis is not only a workforce crisis, but a crisis of our democracy. A quality education is the backbone for creating an educated populace and ensuring a democratic society. As such, it is imperative to motivate both legislators and the public at large to address the educator shortage. Motivating education leaders at the national, state, and school district levels is crucial to educator recruitment and retention. But how do we agree upon a common solution in a highly decentralized system?
National organizations play a role by bringing the necessary conversations to the forefront. Associations must advocate for policies that create opportunities through grants, loans, and scholarships for educators; ease access and combat barriers to educational attainment; and foster partnerships between school districts and higher education institutions. We must address cultural messaging and develop solutions that shape state, local, and tax policy to provide teachers and principals a salary commensurate with their knowledge and skills. To make teacher recruitment and retention a priority, a good place to start is by forgiving educators’ student loans after they serve our communities in the classroom.
While the EDUCATORS for America Act begins to address the teacher shortage, it must accompany a shift in our culture to embrace and value educators. Parents and policymakers must recognize that this crisis is having a perilous impact on education. Students demand regular, high-quality instruction, but we won’t be able to provide it unless we can attract and retain instructors. We must put aside the rhetoric that is undermining the educational system in this country and support policies that tackle the teacher shortage and ensure a democratic society.
Lynn M. Gangone, Ed.D., is president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). She served as vice president at the American Council on Education (ACE), dean of Colorado Women’s College, University of Denver, clinical professor at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education, visiting professor at George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development, executive director of the National Association for Women in Education, and vice president at Centenary University (N.J.).
Ronn Nozoe is CEO of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). Previously, he served as associate executive director, interim executive director, and senior adviser at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs at the U.S. Department of Education, Hawaii’s deputy state superintendent, district superintendent of the Farrington/Kaiser/Kalani complexes, and as a principal, vice-principal, and teacher in various schools across Hawaii.
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