New Report Outlines Root Causes, Solutions to Pennsylvania’s Teacher Shortage Crisis

New Report Outlines Root Causes, Solutions to Pennsylvania’s Teacher Shortage Crisis
#PANeedsTeachers Releases Comprehensive Report to Inform Systemic Policy Changes

February 1, 2023

Harrisburg, PA – Today, #PANeedsTeachers released a comprehensive report on the root causes and potential solutions to Pennsylvania’s educator staffing challenges. In September of 2022, 150 policymakers, K-12 and higher education leaders, and non-profit and advocacy leaders gathered in Harrisburg to discuss their perspectives on the teacher shortage and to begin developing solutions so every classroom can have high-quality teachers. The report, #PANeedsTeachers: Addressing Pennsylvania’s Teacher Shortage Crisis Through Systemic Solutions, summarizes the themes from the September summit and proposes a path forward, including policy principles and specific policy strategies to systemically address teacher shortages and build a stronger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

“Pennsylvania is facing a dire and worsening teacher shortage crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, but whose roots can be traced back over a decade to a wide range of systemic factors,” said Laura Boyce, Executive Director of Teach Plus Pennsylvania and a co-author of the report. “It is our hope that the report will serve as a resource for policymakers, advocates, and education leaders as they work to address this crisis from their respective vantage points at the start of a new gubernatorial administration and legislative session in Pennsylvania.”

An Emerging Teacher Shortage Crisis

The scope of Pennsylvania’s educator staffing challenges is staggering: the supply of teachers has plummeted by two-thirds over the past decade, and a wide range of data points indicate that educator shortages and vacancies are at record-high levels, with low-income, urban, and rural schools impacted the most, and particularly acute shortages in certain subject areas and among teachers of color.

Educator shortages force schools and districts to rely on unprepared teachers, creating a vicious cycle of underperformance and turnover. They also have other wide-ranging ripple effects across schools and communities, creating unsustainable conditions that harm student achievement and mental health, lower the morale and retention of remaining school staff, and hamper the ability of schools and districts to perform basic functions.

Root Causes of The Teacher Shortage

While public awareness of Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage is relatively recent, and many point to the pandemic as its cause, the roots of this crisis are deep and can be traced back many years. In the report, Teach Plus and NCEE identified four primary root causes to explore:

  1. The financial value proposition for becoming a teacher in Pennsylvania continues to worsen as the cost of college and other expenses to enter the profession rise and teacher compensation remains low.
  2. Interest in teaching and the status of the profession continue to decline, particularly among younger generations, making recruitment into the profession more and more difficult.
  3. Many new teachers in Pennsylvania do not receive preparation and induction experiences that build their subject matter expertise, give them sufficient on-the-job clinical experience, and provide support from highly effective mentor teachers, making these teachers less likely to succeed and persist.
  4. Many Pennsylvania teachers experience stressful and isolating workplace conditions, without opportunities for career progression or input into school-wide decision-making.

Policy Principles and Strategies to Address the Teacher Shortage Crisis in Pennsylvania

The root causes of Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage crisis are long-term and systemic. Therefore, any policy solutions must be systemic as well, thoughtfully addressing root causes rather than aiming for quick fixes that might exacerbate existing problems over time. Based on these challenges, the report recommends six policy principles to guide the creation of solutions to teacher shortages in Pennsylvania:

  1. In order to make teaching more attractive as a career, the job of the teacher must fundamentally change.
  2. Teacher shortages cannot be solved in the long term by lowering the bar to become a teacher.
  3. Any policy solutions that involve investment of additional public funds should improve both the quality and quantity of the educator workforce.
  4. Policy solutions should function primarily as incentives rather than requirements in order to reduce compliance mentality.
  5. Policy solutions should be systemic and address root causes.
  6. Policy solutions should drive both excellence and equity.

Finally, the report offers five policy strategies, aligned with the policy principles, to build a strong and diverse educator workforce in Pennsylvania:

  1. Incentivize high-quality teacher preparation, characterized by rigorous coursework and intentionally designed clinical experiences developed in partnership with local education agencies.
  2. Invest in teacher retention through well-defined career ladders.
  3. Expand pathways into teaching for youth and paraprofessionals.
  4. Improve the financial value proposition for becoming a teacher.
  5. Improve data collection to allow for targeted investments in the teacher pipeline.

What’s Next for #PANeedsTeachers

Teach Plus and NCEE have begun sharing the report with the Shapiro administration and legislative leaders and will be working with advocacy partners and policymakers to enact the report’s policy recommendations into this year’s budget and school code. The Senate Education Committee has scheduled a hearing on teacher shortages for February 28, where legislators and advocates will discuss the report.

“Addressing teacher shortages is an issue with bipartisan support,” said Amy Morton of the National Center on Education & the Economy, who co-authored the report. “Over time, policy changes and investments that address systemic challenges within our teacher workforce can be expected to pay dividends in the form of reduced teacher turnover, higher student achievement, higher economic productivity, and less need for social safety net and criminal justice expenditures.”

“We look forward to working with Governor Shapiro and legislative leaders on systemic solutions to address the root causes of educator staffing challenges in order to build Pennsylvania’s teaching profession into a desirable career pathway that attracts and retains an abundance of diverse, dedicated, well-prepared, and well-supported professionals,” said Boyce.

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