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Pennsylvania aims to reverse decline in new teachers, diversify K-12 workforce

A teacher wearing a blue shirt helps her student count numbers during a math lesson in her classroom, using his fingers to figure out a problem.

To address significant statewide concerns about the future of the education workforce, the Pennsylvania Department of Education unveiled a three-year plan to help recruit and retain teachers.

Sylvia Jarrus for Chalkbeat

Chalkbeat Philadelphia is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and economic mobility in the city. Read all our reporting here.

Editor’s note: The article has been updated to properly attribute, reword, or remove sentences that appeared verbatim on the state website.

Addressing schools’ staffing needs and building a diverse teacher workforce are key parts of a three-year plan unveiled Monday by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to help recruit and retain educators amid major concerns about the future of the K-12 workforce.

The Foundation of Our Economy: Pennsylvania Educator Workforce Strategy is an effort to create more ways for out-of-state teachers to become certified in Pennsylvania, according to state officials. The bill would also establish a state education department committee to develop programs for high schoolers who want to become educators. And the bill would create a grant program to increase interest in the education workforce and waives some requirements for education candidates.

In addition, it puts in place a talent recruitment grant program for colleges to increase participation in the education workforce, and waives the basic skills assessment for education candidates for three years.

The plan’s goal is for the number of pre-K-12 educator candidates enrolled in approved educator preparation programs to increase from 18,000 to 21,600 by August 2025. Also by that date, the plan aims to increase the percentage of educators of color entering the profession from 13% to 25%. It remains to be seen whether the plan has staying power when a new governor and state education leadership team take over next year. 

Over the last few years, amid a disruptive pandemic and declining enrollment in public schools in Philadelphia and statewide, there’s been a big plunge in the number of new educators entering the profession. Ten years ago, about 20,000 new teachers each year entered the Pennsylvania workforce, compared to 6,000 last year. Meanwhile, the rate of educators leaving the field is rising, meaning schools are struggling to fill positions

“Like other states across the nation, we have been grappling with an educator workforce shortage that would have severe and long-lasting implications for generations to come,” acting Secretary of Education Eric Hagarty said Monday.

The Philadelphia district, the state’s largest, has been notably affected by staff turnover. About 169 teachers left the school system between Dec. 1 and Feb. 15 in the last school year, double the number of teachers who resigned during the same period the previous year. 

Teacher diversity, or the lack thereof, has also become a focus in Philadelphia. More than 70% of the district’s 124,000 students are Black and Latino, yet teachers are mostly white. Black teachers make up just 24.5% of the 9,100 teachers in the district, while white teachers make up 67% of the teacher population, according to district data.

According to state officials, less than 7% of teachers in the state are people of color, despite the state having higher proportions of students of color. Research has found that teacher diversity has a positive impact on all learners and that students learn best when they have teachers whose lives and backgrounds are similar to their own.

Studies have shown the positive impact of teacher diversity on all learners, and that students learn best when they have the opportunity to do so from teachers whose life experience reflects their own. 

To address such issues, the Educator Workforce Strategy’s goals is to increase the share of pre-K-12 educator candidates of color enrolled in such programs from 14% to 25%, increase the number of educators of color who have access to mentoring and support programs, and increase the retention rates of educators of color from 80% to 90%.

The state released its new educator-focused plan more than a week after Wolf signed a $45.8 billion budget that increased the level of education spending by $850 million for the upcoming year.

The state developed its new plan after conducting feedback sessions and contains a total of 50 steps that the state will use to address the teacher shortage.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, told Chalkbeat he’s encouraged that the state is taking seriously the need to recruit and retain educators. “We are at a precipice with staffing levels, and it’s leading to even more educators leaving the profession,” he said. 

Bureau Chief Johann Calhoun covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. He oversees Chalkbeat Philadelphia’s education coverage. Contact Johann at jcalhoun@chalkbeat.org.

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