Teacher shortages are making it increasingly difficult for schools to address the academic needs of students, which have only become deeper as educators work to help children overcome preexisting gaps that were exacerbated by extended pandemic-driven campus closures.
Recognizing how widespread the issue is, the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies subcommittee convened a hearing May 25 — Tackling Teacher Shortages — during which a panel of experts discussed potential solutions and avenues in which federal investment could aid in the effort of recruiting, training and retaining well-prepared educators.
“Our witnesses lay our solutions for many of the problems we face,” said committee Chair Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT). “I share their view that proactive investments in pipelines and preparation programs will help us reduce shortages in the years to come.”
Increasing diversity and improving preparation
Desiree Carver-Thomas, a researcher and policy analyst for the Learning Policy Institute spoke at length about the importance of ensuring that any efforts to expand teacher pipelines include targeting recruitment of diverse candidates. Citing a body of research which has found time and time again that Latino and particularly Black students see significant gains when the person heading the classroom reflects them and their background, she also noted that white students have been shown to reap the benefits of having a diverse group of educators too.
Each witnesses’ written testimony, which includes citations of the studies and data presented at the hearing, are available to download here.
There are steps Congress can take to help states establish stronger teacher preparation pipelines that attract more diverse candidates, Carver-Thomas said. These include expanding investments in pathways into teaching that have demonstrated high-retention rates such as induction and residency programs; establishing a program dedicated to making high-need and advanced credentials more affordable; and updating the federal service scholarships and loan forgiveness programs, which she said have not been substantially updated by Congress since George W. Bush was president.
Robust federal funding for high-retention pathways into leadership as well can develop strong school leaders who improve school conditions, which can help teachers of color teach for the long-haul, Carver-Thomas said.
Asked by committee ranking member Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) if there were any promising examples of where such work is already underway, Carver-Thomas said some such programs have begun to become more popular across the country, but California in particular is one making considerable investments in teacher residency programs.
“We know that these programs tend to have much higher levels of diversity than the teacher workforce at large, and that’s largely because it’s comprehensive preparation, but residents also receive a stipend during their residency year. They receive ongoing mentoring and support, they receive aligned clinical experiences that lasts typically a full school year while they’re also completing coursework, and they tend to have much higher retention rates than do teachers prepared through other pathways,” she said. “It’s a very promising model, and in California we’re starting to see an uptick in enrollment in teacher preparation programs which defies national trends because of those considerable investments, but there’s still quite a bit of need.”
The role of community schools in retention
Taking place the morning following the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, committee members and witnesses shared their condolences for the families and friends of the nineteen children and two teachers murdered, as well as every student and teacher nationwide reeling from the news.
“All morning long as you can imagine my phone has been ringing off the hook. ‘What can we do? How do we move through this?’” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Teachers across the country are thinking about … grandmothers in Buffalo and kids in Texas. They’re thinking ‘how do we create a safe, welcoming environment for all of us?’ That’s why I lean into in this hearing the whole issue about community schools and wrapping around services. Schools are relational. If we create the trust and we connect in terms of relationships, particularly in a post-COVID era, that’s going to be really, really helpful. And that’s what teachers are thinking about — not hardening schools, not arming themselves, but how we can create a safe welcoming environment.”
Expanding investments in community schools and mental health supports will also help keep more teachers in the profession, she said, because when students basic and mental health needs are being met, educators will be better able to focus on what they do best: teach.
Asked by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) how teachers view the epidemic of gun violence in terms of wanting to go into the profession, Weingarten said educators are definitely impacted, again pointing to community schools as a solution. “Full-service community schools will actually help kids and help teachers teach and identify problems that we see before we see these kinds of situations that we saw last night.”