Teacher Preparation Q&A

Solving the Mismatch Between Teaching Programs’ Supply and What Districts Need 

By Madeline Will — September 28, 2023 6 min read
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There’s often misalignment between teacher-preparation programs and school districts when it comes to the teacher pipeline. (A classic example: too few special educators, too many elementary teachers.) A new tool aims to help.

The Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity, a national organization that provides resources and support for educator-preparation programs at minority-serving institutions, has launched a tool to help colleges and universities and partner school districts track and understand teacher vacancy data over time.

The alliance defines a vacancy as any classroom that either doesn’t have a teacher or has a teacher who is not fully certified in the subject area or grade level.

The tool—which covers three years of data—can help identify any potential mismatch between the teachers the educator-preparation programs, or EPPs, are providing and staff openings at local school districts. It can answer the question: Are the providers producing enough—and the right kind of—teachers to meet districts’ needs?

So far, more than a dozen teams of teacher-prep programs and districts have started looking at the data, with coaches from the Branch Alliance facilitating conversations about potential mismatches and their solutions.

“Teacher vacancies is a huge issue across the country,” said Cassandra Herring, the president and chief executive officer of Branch Alliance. “What’s really important to us is getting EPPs and their district partners working together around solutions to challenges within their ecosystem.”

While this work is starting with programs at minority-serving institutions, Herring said she thinks the tool could benefit all educator-preparation programs. She’s shared the early work with some state officials, who she said are excited about learning more.

“K-12 is thinking about vacancies in isolation; EPPs are trying to produce teachers, somewhat in isolation—what this tool does is say, ‘How can we map what we’re doing and then create a targeted action plan to address [the vacancies] that’s grounded in data?’” Herring said. “What is the data telling us about where we’re producing teachers and where there is a need?”

Education Week spoke to Herring and Patricia Alvarez McHatton, the chief program officer at Branch Alliance, about the tool and its impact. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What kind of early feedback have you gotten from teacher-prep programs and districts?

Alvarez McHatton: We heard one team talk about how they’re going to use the tool and the analysis they glean from it as a marketing tool, so that when they go out to recruit students into their program, they’re able to say, “Well, here are the types of jobs that are needed in education.” And they can help guide students into the certification or credential area where there is the most need.

Patricia Alvarez McHatton

The other one that was really interesting was the team that said, “We’re looking at our data, and we’re producing enough teachers, but the problem is they’re not going into our partner district.” So this then opened up a new conversation to think about, how can we help filter our candidates or our graduates into our partner district, because there’s a huge need there. We can fill the need, we just need to get our students to move there.

Herring: It was also a prompt for the district to begin thinking about its recruitment and selection processes and why candidates from that particular [program] were not making it all the way through the process, if they were entering it.

It really is an opportunity for both sides of the partnership to reflect upon what they have opportunity and leverage to do, to bring greater alignment.

Alvarez McHatton: I think the other piece that’s really important is, now we have this information that’s grounded in data. We can all sit around the table all day and say, “Oh, well, we know there’s a shortage here, here, and here.” But this really shows you where they are. And it can discern little blips. So you might have a gap, and then you did something, and then it worked so well that now you have a surplus. It really helps them to think through, with an eye on the future, on how to plan their efforts.

Many prospective teachers want to pursue elementary education, for example, but that’s not what districts need most. But many teacher-educators say they don’t want to deter students from their chosen field. How can this tool help with that conversation?

Alvarez McHatton: I think part of what we need to be doing when thinking about preparing teachers is really providing as much information to the candidates as we possibly can. That’s why I loved when that team said, “We’re going to use this as a marketing tool to be able to show our perspective students what the market looks like as far as employment, especially if you want to stay in the area.”

Part of it is helping them see that, they may have a passion in elementary ed., [the district] needs special ed. teachers—you can do elementary ed. with a special ed. credential; you have kids in elementary who need special education services. I think it’s about really being transparent with students so they can make wise financial decisions as they enter the job market.

Cassandra Herring

Herring: Faculty struggle with [not wanting] to counsel students out of education in general. And many of them don’t want to counsel them out of particular concentration areas like elementary ed., but the data helps to share the why. It helps to demonstrate the opportunity for employment, and help candidates see where they’re able to really execute on their aspiration, but in a way that makes them incredibly employable in those partnership districts.

Alvarez McHatton: I think the other piece is ... [providers] really beginning to understand a rationale for why [candidates] want to go into that particular field. Is it a fear of content? Is it a fear of this?

Really, in some ways, it’s going to help unpack why some decisions are being made as to where they want to go, what they want to teach, and then being able to step in, in order to intervene or ameliorate those concerns—those issues that may surface once you start digging into those whys.

How do you think this tool can change the way districts and teacher-prep programs communicate?

Herring: [The teams that tried it out said that typically] the EPP might get the district’s list of shortage areas, and the district may have a general sense of who the EPP is preparing, but they haven’t had this depth of data around that production. Now they have something much more concrete to ground the conversation, and they can be much more targeted.

It gets away from the assumptions or interpretations that quite honestly may be inaccurate once they actually look at the data—in the fact that they’re looking at trend data, they’re not just looking at one year at a time.

I think there has been a joint interest in understanding the needs of the district in terms of vacancies, and there certainly has been an interest on districts’ behalf that EPPs are generating those candidates. But here’s an opportunity to really sit down and map the data so that we don’t have to think about impressions. We really can have a data-informed conversation and make some targeted supports.

Alvarez McHatton: EPPs and districts have had conversations in the past about, “I need more special ed., I need more of this, I need more of that.” What I really appreciate about this is that it really gets folks to say, “What is the root cause?”

It is insufficient to say, “We need more of this.” The question is, “Why don’t we have enough of this?” And this really engages them in a systematic process to have that conversation.


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