Earlier this summer, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced his Administration's priorities for the teaching profession. "A great teacher in every classroom is one of the most important resources we can give our children to recover from this pandemic and thrive," Secretary Cardona said, and we couldn't agree more.
Beyond the important areas outlined in the Secretary's remarks (which we explore more below), we see two big challenges to the goal of access and equity to quality teachers that have yet to be addressed, which we believe Secretary Cardona and the federal government have the power to impact. We urge the Department of Education to invest in and push state education agencies to address two key topics not mentioned in the Secretary's recent remarks:
- Ensuring all students have equitable access to great teachers: The 2015 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (known as ESSA) requires that states collect and report the necessary data documenting the distribution of their teacher talent among their schools to ensure that their most vulnerable students are not disproportionately taught by less effective, less experienced, or out-of-field teachers. Our recent review of states' compliance with this provision of ESSA found many opportunities for improvement. The federal government can bring much-needed attention back to the issue of educator equity through their enforcement of this provision. We urge Secretary Cardona to both put forward additional regulations for state compliance with this provision, and to provide incentives for states to invest in educator workforce data systems that shine a light on access to qualified teachers.
- Establishing a robust national teacher labor market data system: There has long been a serious dearth of detailed, disaggregated, and timely data on the teacher labor market—either within states or nationally. Most states do not collect, report, and connect the teacher supply and demand data they need to understand, predict, and address teacher shortages. Some states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, and Massachusetts, have made great strides to collect and report data on their teacher workforce in recent years, and the COVID pandemic has led many states to invest in more robust systems for their student data. Federal investment in teacher data systems would be invaluable to strengthening the workforce. We were encouraged to see the U.S. Department of Labor recently put forward a new Enterprise Data Initiative to improve federal labor data in collaboration with other federal agencies. With strong cross-agency collaboration, the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor could go beyond the current limitations of BLS public education jobs data, and use this opportunity to produce more detailed, actionable public education labor market data.
While we think these two components are missing, we see promising opportunities in the five strategies the Secretary outlined to improve the recruitment, preparation, and retention of diverse, highly-qualified teachers. As policymakers and advocates put these strategies into action, we offer NCTQ's insights and considerations for making this vision for the teacher workforce a reality.
Strategy 1: Investing in a strong and diverse teacher pipeline, including increasing access to affordable, comprehensive, evidence-based preparation programs, such as teacher residencies, Grow Your Own programs, including those that begin in high school, and apprenticeship programs
NCTQ Insight: Alternative and innovative models for preparing teachers such as residencies, apprenticeships, and Grow Your Own programs hold potential to attract diverse and high-quality teachers. As these programs grow, often with federal support, policymakers should fund evaluations of their effectiveness.
As we invest in these new approaches, we would do well not to neglect the importance of the programs that continue to prepare the vast majority of teachers in this country: traditional, higher education-based preparation programs. No strategy for building in a strong and diverse teacher pipeline is complete without attention to the primary way new teachers enter the profession.
Traditional teacher preparation programs, where aspiring teachers work towards initial teacher certification as they earn a bachelor's or master's degree, are ripe with opportunities to strengthen the teacher pipeline. While there are standout institutions leading the way, the majority of prep programs must do more to actively recruit and support more aspiring teachers of color if we have any hope of closing the teacher diversity gap. Programs can also do much more to ensure that aspiring teachers are well-prepared, starting with required coursework that covers essential content and pedagogy (particularly in reading and math), high-quality student teaching experiences, and opportunities to learn and practice effective classroom management strategies.
NCTQ has focused on supporting improvements in traditional teacher preparation for over a decade, including our recent work to use teacher licensure test pass rate data to illuminate areas where aspiring teachers need more support.
Strategy 2: Supporting teachers in earning initial or additional certification in high-demand areas such as special education and bilingual education or advanced certifications to better meet the needs of their students
NCTQ Insight: The greatest challenge facing the future of the educator workforce is not a general teacher shortage. Instead, states and communities are struggling with longstanding shortages in certain hard-to-staff schools and subjects, particularly STEM, special education, and ELL education. Any strategy to tackle these critical shortages should include incentives and support to encourage more aspiring teachers to earn certifications in these high-need areas.
However, research suggests we should be cautious about encouraging aspiring or current teachers to earn dual certification in special education and another subject. While one recent study found that students with disabilities whose teachers have dual certification accrue academic benefits, there could be a downside when it comes to addressing shortages. Another working paper recently found that teachers with dual certifications in special education and another subject (e.g., elementary education) are 20% less likely to accept a special education teaching position than a teacher with only a special education certification, and are also more likely to transfer from a special education to general education classroom.
Rather than assume dual or additional certification in high-demand subjects will ease shortages, policymakers should look to initiatives that have successfully attracted more teachers to high-need positions—Hawaii, for example, has seen the proportion of special ed positions that are either vacant or filled by teachers unlicensed in the field cut in half since they instituted a $10,000 annual pay increase for special education teachers. The federal government has made funds available specifically for developing this type of differentiated salary structure through the Teacher and School Leader Incentive Grants program, and could invest more in this important work.
Strategy 3: Helping teachers pay off their student loans, including through loan forgiveness and service scholarship programs
NCTQ Insight: Loan forgiveness and service scholarships can be a great way to both attract more teachers to the profession and to support the retention of those already in the classroom who may be considering leaving for higher pay in another field. Unfortunately, most states don't take advantage of this strategy, even when it comes to loan forgiveness or scholarship incentives for teachers in the highest-need areas or for teachers of shortage subjects.
A good first step would be for states to invest in loan forgiveness and scholarship programs (which is an approved use of federal Rescue Plan funds) to attract and retain teachers to the classrooms where they are most needed. Specific scholarship programs for aspiring teachers at Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribally Controlled Colleges or Universities (TCCUs), and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) can also receive federal funding through the Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence Grants program, which supports work to bring much-needed greater diversity to the teacher workforce, and was funded for the first time last year by Congress with leadership from USED.
Strategy 4: Supporting teachers by providing them and students with the resources they need to succeed, including mentoring for early career teachers, high-quality curricular materials, and providing students with access to guidance counselors, social workers, nurses, mental health professionals, and other specialists
NCTQ Insight: Once teachers are in the classroom, providing support to them and their students is essential to setting them up for success and promoting retention. Recent research found that teachers may prefer their schools or districts to invest in adding additional supports, such as more school counselors, a school nurse, and in-class special education specialists over a 10% pay raise for themselves.
When it comes to mentoring for early-career teachers (during both student teaching experience and in their first few years in the classroom) research is abundantly clear that mentoring has a powerful impact on improving teacher effectiveness when the mentor teacher or coach is an effective teacher themselves. The federal government has explicitly stated that Rescue Plan funds may be used to provide early career teachers with high-quality mentoring, so policymakers must ensure the definition of "high quality" includes selecting mentor teachers based on evidence of effectiveness. Unfortunately, most states and the majority of teacher preparation programs don't have this requirement.
When it comes to curricular materials, the definition of "high-quality" is also key for implementation. In early reading, high-quality curriculum must align with the science of reading. And curriculum alone is not enough: teachers must be supported through curriculum-aligned professional learning and time for collaboration to well-teach the high-quality curriculum. Stay tuned for upcoming work from NCTQ examining if the early reading curricula states require or recommend adheres to the instructional practices research shows to be most effective at teaching all children to read.
Strategy 5: Creating opportunities for teacher advancement and leadership, including participating in distributive leadership models, and serving as instructional coaches and mentors
NCTQ Insight: Like all professionals, teachers want to share their expertise and continue to advance throughout their careers, often while staying in the classroom. A substantial body of research identifies teacher leadership pipelines as an essential component of an effective talent management strategy. But also like all professionals, teachers should be appropriately compensated as they grow in skills and responsibilities: a teacher leadership program without significant compensation attached may lead to greater stress on teachers, rather than supporting teacher growth and retention. But while most states (35) have formal teacher leadership programs, only 14 of those have additional compensation for teacher leaders.