I have a new op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal about New Mexico’s recent teacher recruitment bills. The state struggles with teacher shortages, specifically teachers of color. Six in ten students of color will go through their entire schooling without having a teacher who looks like them. As you’ve read in Katrina Boone, Justin Trinidad, and Cara Jackson‘s work, that’s a BIG problem.
The state is investing $10 million in two new programs to address this shortage, but I argue that they’re divvying up their dollars the wrong way:
The bulk of this investment is going to the Teacher Preparation Affordability Act, which targets new prospective teachers. A much smaller amount of money is allocated to the Grow Your Own Teachers Act, which focuses on current education assistants. But this is the wrong way to divvy up the pot: The state should be banking more on current education assistants and less on prospective teachers.
Education assistants are the perfect population to recruit from to address teacher diversity and retention concerns. Nationally, paraeducators – like New Mexico’s education assistants – are more likely to be bilingual, born outside the U.S., and nonwhite than current teachers. And they’ve already demonstrated their interest in working in schools. This type of locally focused recruitment strategy isn’t new: Former Public Education Secretary Karen Trujillo, whose dismissal was announced last month, led one such program out of New Mexico State University. But the Grow Your Own Act is particularly promising; it could be the incentive that pushes education assistants into lead teacher positions. According to a recent survey of current New Mexico education assistants, the primary barriers to completing licensure positions are time and money. But if each education assistant enrolled in the program uses the full scholarship amount available to them, that’s only enough to prepare 17 new teachers. By way of comparison, last year, New Mexico had 740 teacher vacancies. The state needs to do much more to recruit teachers of color, and this plan isn’t it.
Read the full piece in the Albuquerque Journal.
This op-ed is part of a series on teacher residencies. Read Bellwether blog posts in the #ResidentExperts series here.
What types of subject-area teacher shortages do states experience? Are there major trends across states in chronic subject-area teacher shortages? How different are subject-area teacher shortages between states?
These were some of the questions my colleague Justin Trinidad and I sought to answer in our new report “Nuance in the Noise: The Complex Reality of Teacher Shortages.” We dove into a national data set on teacher shortage areas submitted by states and territories to the U.S. Department of Education. This data set is one of the best sources we have to analyze trends in subject-area shortages across the country and for each particular state.
Given this fact, were were shocked by just how messy the data were. We quickly found that there is no standard reporting framework that states must use. This means each state defines their own subject areas as they see fit. For example, Colorado reports its science shortages under the multiple categories of “Science,” “Natural Science, “Natural Sciences (Grades 7-12),” and “Natural Sciences (Kindergarten-Grade 12),” while Georgia uses the categories of “Sciences,” “Sciences (K-Grade 6),” and “Sciences – Secondary.”
This lack of standardization meant we had to create our own methodology in order to analyze the data, and even then, cross-state comparisons were difficult! That was annoying and a ton of work, yes, but it also spoke to a larger trend we see in teacher supply and demand data: they are hard to understand and often tell an incomplete story. What states report to the feds is often not the same thing they list on their state education websites.
However, frustrations with data didn’t stop us from finding some interesting and important information in our analysis. In fact, what we found challenges a widely held belief: that there is a generic, national teacher shortage. It turns out that teacher shortage needs vary widely across states. States even have varying experiences with the more chronic shortage areas like mathematics.
As the below map shows, California reported mathematics shortages less than 20 percent of the time of our analysis, while four states — Louisiana, Maine, North Carolina, and Texas — reported mathematics shortages all 20 years of our analysis.
While discussions of a national teacher shortage crisis have taken place over decades, a generic shortage has yet to materialize. To get a clearer picture of trends in teacher subject-area shortages across the country, Kaitlin Pennington McVey and I analyzed national data on teacher shortage areas submitted by states and territories to the U.S. Department of Education.
I wrote about our recent findings for The 74 today.
Our analysis indicates that subject areas with teacher shortages vary significantly by state and time period, even among the top shortage areas. But there are also very real chronic shortages — in some states, lasting as much as 20 years — that yet have been unresolved because poor data has led to ineffective policies.
We can never fully address teacher shortages if we lack consistent and accurate data about the actual challenges. Without better data, we are wasting time and resources developing misdirected policies that may further hurt the teaching workforce.