Mt. Lebanon High School (Shutterstock)
Mt. Lebanon High School (Shutterstock)

The education department’s strategy includes plans to recruit and retain educators while building a more diverse workforce by 2025.

In an effort to recruit and retain educators, and build a more diverse workforce, the Wolf administration recently released a three-year strategic plan to address educator staffing shortages in Pennsylvania.

The strategy was developed by the Department of Education through feedback from educators across the state. It outlines 50 steps to address the staffing crisis which was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and lays out various goals to be achieved by August 2025.

The department laid out its strategy in a 20-page document that includes five educator workforce focus areas, including:

  • Meeting the educator staffing needs of rural, suburban, and urban areas
  • Building a diverse workforce representative of the students served
  • Operating a rigorous, streamlined, and customer-service oriented certification process
  • Ensuring high-quality preparation experiences for aspiring educators
  • Ensuring educator access to high-quality and relevant professional growth and leadership development opportunities

Here’s an overview of the plan:

Workforce Shortage

According to Eric Hagarty, acting secretary of education, the educator shortage is the “most urgent” issue facing Pennsylvania schools. If the crisis is not addressed, he said, the result will be larger class sizes and fewer program offerings.

These staffing shortages are felt most by schools serving the highest proportions of low-income students and students of color.

While the overall numbers of new educators entering the profession continues to decline, the rate of educators leaving the profession continues to accelerate, Hagarty said.

In a February survey from the National Education Association, which represents nearly 3 million educators, 99% of respondents reported burnout as a “serious problem.” Fifty-five percent said they are ready to leave the profession earlier than planned.

Since 2010, Pennsylvania has seen a 66% decline in Instructional I teaching certificates, the state’s most basic teaching accreditation, issued to in-state graduates. Data from the Department of Education also reflect a 58% decline in certificates issued to those planning to work out-of-state.

To address the workforce shortage, the Department of Education said in its report that the state needs to strengthen its partnerships with educator preparation programs, school districts, charter schools, intermediate units, and career and technical centers.

“We are going to work with each school district to partner with them to set unique targets for whatever their unique circumstances might be,” Hagarty said.

Fostering Workforce Diversity

According to the Professional Educator Records Management System, students of color represent 37% of the public school population while teachers of color represent only 7% of the teacher population.

The state’s plan aims to increase the percentage of educators of color entering the profession from 13% to 25% by August 2025.

To reach this goal, Hagarty said the state plans to develop a publicly available data collection and reporting system to measure the progress of meeting diversity goals. The plan also includes proposed partnerships with nonprofit organizations working to develop recruitment, training, and mentoring programs for middle and high school students from diverse backgrounds to identify and recruit future teachers.

Improving the Certification Process

In an effort to streamline the process for certification applicants, the Department of Education plans to establish an average processing time of 15 days. By August 2025, the state hopes that at least 80% of applicants will rate the process as “highly efficient” or “effective.”

The plan also proposes codifying proven certification improvements through state law, regulations, or policy guidance to ensure an efficient process.

The department also hopes to identify whether there is a gap between the success rates of certification applicants by race, ethnicity, or linguistic background, and decrease any gaps that are found.

Addressing Educator Preparation

As of the 2018-19 school year, there were 122 approved educator preparation program providers statewide, with 17,492 enrollees and 5,720 program graduates.

The Department of Education has proposed that at least 75% of program graduates self-report their program as “strongly prepared” or “adequately prepared” to teach a diverse student population by August 2025.

State officials also want at least 90% of educator preparation programs to implement a protocol for recent graduates and their job placement sites to provide feedback on the program’s effectiveness in preparing them for core aspects of their job.

To accomplish these goals, the Department of Education suggests expanding education preparation program providers, identifying data collection and reporting processes to measure success, and conducting reviews of partnerships between programs and hiring entities.

Professional Growth and Development

As of the 2021-22 school year, there were 1,160 organizations qualified to provide Act 48 -eligible professional development and 22 Act 45-eligible courses offered through the Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership (PIL) Program.

To ensure educators have access to high-quality professional development and leadership opportunities, the state hopes to enhance the Department of Education’s existing database  “to capture a wider range of professional development providers and offerings.”

The plan proposes soliciting feedback on improving existing training opportunities and discontinuing ineffective programs. The strategy also suggests developing data collection and reporting tools to measure progress on meeting goals and improving surveys that educators submit on their professional learning experiences.