The Biden administration has unveiled a three-point plan to address teacher shortages: partner with recruitment firms to find new potential applicants, subsidize other prospective teachers’ training, and pay them more so they’ll stay.
To unveil the effort, first lady Jill Biden led a White House discussion on Wednesday with top administration officials, including U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, the two national teachers’ union presidents, and executives from the participating job-search companies.
“There are so many ... future educators out there who want to teach but decide against it or decide to leave because so many obstacles stand in their way, and we’ve seen that this summer,” Biden said. “And if we want to draw more bright, talented people into the field, if we want educators to be able to do what they do best, we have to give them the pay and the support they need.”
Here’s what the recruitment firms will do: ZipRecruiter has launched a new online job portal for K-12 school jobs, including teachers, nurses, and school counselors. Indeed will facilitate virtual hiring fairs for educators across the country. And Handshake, an app that helps college students find jobs, will host a free virtual event in October to help current undergraduate students learn about careers in education.
Also, the Education and Labor departments issued a joint letter to state and local education and workforce leaders with three recommendations to address staff shortages in education.
First, policymakers should leverage federal funding to establish more teacher-apprenticeship programs, in which candidates get on-the-job experience—and a paycheck—while training to become a teacher, the letter says. Typically, these programs are meant for paraprofessionals or other school employees who are interested in getting their teaching degree.
Also, the secretaries urged more partnerships and collaboration between workforce and education systems. Ideally, workforce-development boards are supporting district hiring efforts, and schools are preparing students for in-demand careers, the letter says. Workforce-development boards can also be instrumental in connecting teacher candidates to supportive services, like assistance for child care, transportation, testing costs and licensure fees, and housing.
Finally, Cardona and Walsh called for states and districts to pay teachers competitively and use their federal recovery funds to do so. The letter points to new data showing that on average, teachers make about 33 percent less than other college-educated workers.
‘We must first address the teacher-respect issue’
When Susan Rice, the White House domestic policy adviser, said the first step to solving teacher shortages is increasing pay, Biden broke out in applause. The first lady teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College and just returned to work for the new school year.
“You still feel that excitement, that anxiety of the new semester and what it’s going to bring,” Biden said. “I’ve been teaching for 38 years, and I still have that feeling—it’s a good thing.”
While there’s no real-time data on the extent of a national teacher shortage, many school districts are reporting unfilled teacher vacancies as the school year begins. Already, many states have eased certification requirements to get more people into the classroom, and Arizona and Florida have lifted the requirement that teachers hold bachelor’s degrees in certain instances.
Earlier this year, many teachers said they planned to quit earlier than originally planned because of the stresses of the pandemic, although it’s unclear how many actually did so. Yet as Biden and Cardona pointed out, teacher shortages—especially in certain subject areas, in special education, and in specific locales—have been a perennial issue for years.
Enrollment in teacher-preparation programs has declined by about a third over the past decade, and recently, 62 percent of Americans said they wouldn’t want their child to be a teacher, citing concerns about pay, job stresses, and a lack of respect.
“If we’re serious in addressing the teacher-shortage issue, we must first address the teacher-respect issue,” Cardona said. “And that means first and foremost paying our teachers a livable and competitive wage.”
Cardona touted the department’s overhaul of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which promises to forgive the federal loans of teachers and other public-service workers if they make 120 on-time monthly payments toward their loan. The program has had a confusing, complicated, and poorly communicated application process that has left the vast majority of qualified borrowers unable to pursue loan forgiveness.
Last October, the Biden administration announced it would temporarily waive many requirements, including retroactively, so that more people could qualify. Borrowers who have not yet applied for public-service loan forgiveness have to do so before Oct. 31 to benefit from these changes, which Cardona and Biden reiterated at the White House discussion.
Advocacy groups and labor unions, including the National Education Association, have called on the administration to extend the changes past October so more people can benefit, but Cardona did not address a possible extension.
Apprenticeship programs viewed as a promising solution
Cardona and Walsh pointed to registered apprenticeship programs in Iowa and Tennessee as examples that could be replicated across the country.
This school year, Iowa has launched a grant program that helps high school students earn a paraprofessional certificate and associate degree and paraprofessionals to earn their bachelor’s degree so they can teach—all while learning and working in the classroom. Iowa is leveraging its federal pandemic-relief funds to establish this program, which requires school districts to partner with community colleges or four-year universities.
The funding will cover candidates’ tuition and fees—as well as an hourly pay rate of $12 for high school aides and 50 percent of the wages that districts already pay paraprofessionals.
Earlier this year, Tennessee became the first state to be approved by the Labor Department to establish a permanent “grow your own” model that will allow people to become a teacher for free. Tuition, fees, books, and required exams are all covered for school employees who are training to become a teacher under this model.
Apprenticeship programs have been viewed as a promising solution to teacher shortages by many in the field. Candidates receive robust support from mentor teachers before becoming a teacher of record. The program also removes financial barriers into the classroom, especially for candidates of color or those from low-income backgrounds who might not be able to sacrifice a paycheck while training to be a teacher.
Walsh said the Labor Department is committed to prioritizing the education sector in future apprenticeship funding, including its next round of more than $100 million in grants.
“There’s no reason we can’t have successful apprenticeships in the United States of America; they do it in Europe all day long,” Walsh said.
The NEA, the American Federation of Teachers, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Governors Association also announced on Wednesday that they would work together to identify best practices and support their members in pursuing registered apprenticeships.
Also, the Pathways Alliance—a coalition of organizations dedicated to bolstering the teacher pipeline—announced it would create national guidelines for registered teacher-apprenticeship programs. The Learning Policy Institute, a nonprofit, and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education are among the founding members of the coalition.
As the portion of the meeting that was open to the press wrapped up, President Joe Biden stuck his head into the Roosevelt Room. “Whatever she says, I agree with,” he quipped.
“Speaking of partnerships,” the first lady responded, to laughter.