With Pennsylvania, and the nation, in the midst of a historic teacher shortage, a new report by the country’s largest teachers union lays out what it says is a pathway to keeping the best and brightest educators from leaving the profession years ahead of schedule.
In it, the National Education Association argues that while there is no shortage of “people who are called to teach and inspire the next generation,” there is “a decades-long effort by certain politicians to undermine public education by offering paltry wages, diminishing the respect for educators, and denying educators autonomy to make teaching decisions.”
The numbers are hard to deny: Since 2010, Pennsylvania has seen a 66 percent decline in Instructional I teaching certificates, the state’s most basic teaching accreditation awarded to graduates who pass their certification tests, issued to in-state graduates, the Capital-Star reported in March.
Data compiled by the state Department of Education also reflect a 58 percent decline in certificates issued to those planning to work out-of-state, the Capital-Star previously reported.
The NEA’s researchers interviewed educators and school professionals across the nation, asking them how staffing shortages had impacted students, schools and communities.
The shortage has been driven by a combination of factors, including low pay and long hours, post-pandemic PTSD, and the increasingly polarized and politicized fights over what teachers teach and how they teach it — particularly in matters of gender, race, and sexuality.
“A Band-Aid approach says to our students that — in the teaching profession — advanced, content-specific professionals should just teach what they’re told, and not what they have dedicated their academic and professional lives to teaching,” Marvin Burton Jr., a middle and high school teacher in Forestville, Md., told NEA researchers.
The NEA report lays out solutions across a variety of topic areas, including suggestions to improve working conditions; boosting pay and making benefits competitive; addressing student debt relief and forgiveness, and improving public respect for educators.
In a statement, Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said any plan to solve staffing shortages would require “long-term, evidence-based strategies.
The sprawling document “takes the long view, clearly laying out a multiyear strategy to recruit and retain highly qualified educators and support professionals,” Askey said. “This report should serve as a roadmap for school districts and lawmakers at the local, state, and federal levels as we navigate our way through this crisis.”
Frances C. Cortez Funk, a PSEA member interviewed for the report, emphasized the importance of mental health support for college students and the need for the qualified staff who could provide those services.
“These past few years have been challenging in all levels of education,” Cortez Funk, who’s the director of health promotion and alcohol & other drug services at Kutztown University in Berks County, said in PSEA’s statement.
“Today’s college students are brilliant and resilient, but they have more complicated financial and mental health needs,” Cortez Funk continued. “To meet their needs, we must have a full staff of experts in well-being, including physical and mental health, equity, and inclusion topics. When campuses can’t find or retain those professionals, our students are less likely to succeed and realize their dreams through higher education.”
If officials implement the report’s findings, they could help to “fundamentally restructure” the public school system into one that is “inclusive, supportive, and helps our kids thrive,” the NEA researchers said.
NEA President Becky Pringle called the staffing shortage a “five-alarm crisis.” noting that “every student, no matter their race, ZIP code, or background, deserves caring, qualified, committed educators.
” … Too often people want a silver bullet solution or will implement a Band-Aid approach,” Pringle continued. “These shortages are severe. They are chronic. And the educator shortages that are gripping our public schools, colleges and universities will only be fixed with systematic, sustained solutions.”
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