The #PANeedsTeachers report offers solutions to Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage

A new report on Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage recommends sweeping changes that will affect how teachers are prepared, paid and retained, and advocates solutions that address not only the problem but its root causes throughout the system.

Student teachers should be paid, and Pennsylvania should explore schemes that would allow college students to become teachers for free. There should be closer partnerships between school districts and colleges, better evaluation of teacher preparation programs, and higher salaries for teachers who act as mentors.

These were among the remedies that emerged from a summit on the teacher shortage in Harrisburg last September, attended by 150 educators, policymakers and government leaders, including then-acting Secretary of Education Eric Hagarty.

» READ MORE: Teachers Wanted: The declining pipeline of prospective educators has experts fearing the teacher shortage is only getting worse.

The summit and subsequent 36-page report, titled #PANeedsTeachers: Addressing Pennsylvania’s Teacher Shortage Crisis Through Systemic Solutions, was led and prepared by Teach Plus and the National Center on Education and the Economy, two national nonprofit organizations.

The move comes as fewer young people are pursuing a teaching career and job openings are increasing, particularly in the areas of special education, English language teaching, and science, technology, engineering and math. Statewide, the number of people completing teacher education programs fell 25% from 2011-12 to 2019-20, according to federal data, with larger declines in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

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The report’s authors have already begun circulating it among legislative leaders and cabinet members in incoming Governor Josh Shapiro’s administration. State Senator David Argall, the Republican who is majority chairman of the Board of Education, has scheduled a Feb. 28 hearing on the teacher shortage to discuss the report, the authors said.

“We hope that in what is a particularly polarized environment right now, this can be something that Democrats and Republicans can agree on and come together on,” said Laura Boyce, executive director of Teach Plus PA and a former Philadelphia teacher and Camden principal.

» READ MORE: Pa. waives the basic requirement for educators. Will it work to attract more teachers?

Raise incentives, but don’t lower the bar

The report highlighted four root causes of teacher shortages: low wages combined with rising college costs; dwindling interest in the profession and its declining status; inconsistent preparation and onboarding of new teachers; and “stressful and isolating” working conditions with no opportunities for participation or advancement.

The problem of too few color teachers was also mentioned.

“Pennsylvania has a particularly acute shortage of black educators, with only 6% of educators identifying as people of color compared to 37% of the student population,” the report states.

Boyce’s co-author Amy Morton, a systems design specialist at the National Center for Education, said the report aims to increase the number of teachers and also improve working conditions, “so that we’re not just solving half the problem and still wondering why it is not sustainable.”

Solutions, Boyce and Morton said, should be encouraged rather than mandated. Some recommendations, such as B. Paying teachers as skills advance could require changes to collective agreements, the report found.

They do not advocate lowering the bar for the teaching profession, but support removing unnecessary barriers that do not measure quality. Pennsylvania last year waived its basic skills tests in reading, math and writing that teachers had to pass — or meet the requirement through an alternative — to enroll in teacher preparation programs. The three-year waiver allows studies to show whether the test improved the quality of teacher candidates or discouraged students from pursuing the profession.

“I’m not crazy about anything that lowers the expectations that teacher candidates should perform at a certain level,” said Morton, who started out as a high school social studies teacher and has held senior positions at the Pennsylvania Department of Education under three governors. “On the other hand, I’m not convinced that the basic ability test is the means to determine that.”

Fix “Pay Penalty”

The report states that teachers’ salaries were a deterrent.

“Inflation-adjusted average weekly earnings for teachers have remained relatively flat since 1996, while weekly earnings for other college graduates have increased by 28% over the same period,” the report says. “This leads to a so-called ‘wage penalty’ of 15.2% for teachers in Pennsylvania; In other words, college graduates who are teachers earn, on average, 15.2% less than their peers who are employed in other fields.”

Pennsylvania is worse off in this area than New Jersey, New York and Delaware, the report says.

» READ MORE: Grow your own programs train high school students to become teachers. West Chester joins movement to tackle teacher shortages.

School districts should create career ladders and identify mentor teachers who can move up the pay scale according to their abilities and remain in the classroom, the report recommended.

Low pay makes the profession less attractive to prospective teachers, especially students from low-income backgrounds who are already struggling to pay for college. Pennsylvania should consider funding apprenticeship programs where students work in school districts and are paid while their teacher training costs are covered.

The state should also look into covering other costs for the candidates, such as B. payment for certification exams, says the report.

And colleges and school districts need to work together to create more ways to learn, like B. A program started by the Philadelphia School District to help paraprofessionals become teachers for free.

Measure program quality and discard poorly performing programs

In other countries, teacher preparation programs are limited to top colleges, making it easier to ensure high quality across the board. Finland, which has a population of 5.5 million, less than half the population of Pennsylvania, has eight accredited programs while Pennsylvania has 126.

“They have a very different approach to who gets accepted into these teacher prep programs,” Morton said. “They usually come from the top 50 percent of high school seniors. And you have people who have been successful in K-12 classrooms and taught those teachers how to be successful teachers. That is not necessarily always the case in this country or in this Commonwealth.”

Teacher preparation programs vary in student graduation rates and the percentage of those who pass certification exams, giving insight into the apparent patchy quality, the report said.

The state needs to collect more data to measure the success of teacher preparation programs, the report said, noting that the state Department of Education does not conduct on-site visits but relies on self-assessment programs.

Boyce said the legislation passed last year requires some new data collection, but more is needed. The report endorses the pursuit of teaching vacancies and how well teacher candidates are making the transition from college to the workplace. Pennsylvania should survey teachers about working conditions and survey those leaving their jobs, as well as create a public dashboard with information about teacher supply, retention and satisfaction, the report said.

“Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania, prep and induction experiences can vary in quality and consistency…” states the report. “Sometimes there is a disconnect between what teacher candidates learn in their preparatory programs and what they are expected to teach once they are hired by the districts.”

New funding should aim to encourage closer collaboration between teacher preparation programs and school districts so educators are prepared to meet staffing needs and standards, the report said. West Chester’s recently launched PRIZE program aims to help school districts train ‘their own’ teachers. Its partners include the Kennett Consolidated School District in Chester County.