Supporting the Educator Workforce
The Department recognizes the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on the Nation's educators as well as students. In this section, SEAs will describe strategies for supporting and stabilizing the educator workforce and for making staffing decisions that will support students' academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs.
Pennsylvania's educator workforce is comprised of more than 147,000 teachers, principals, superintendents, and other school staff tasked with providing more than 1.7 million public school students with a rigorous, well-rounded education that prepares them for college and career success. The commonwealth has 119 educator preparation programs—including 99 institutions of higher education and 20 alternative program providers—that offer 3,261 certification programs, making Pennsylvania's educator preparation system one of the largest in the country.
Despite these strengths, Pennsylvania faces significant challenges, including a steep decline in the number of qualified teaching candidates, especially in rural and urban school districts and for hard-to-staff areas like special education, English Language instruction, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). A national survey in 2021 found that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than half of K-12 educators experienced stress (63 percent), burnout (54 percent), and high levels of anxiety (47 percent). The same survey also found that almost 4 in 10 educators are considering leaving their careers due to pandemic working conditions.
Of equal concern to the supply and retention of qualified teachers and school leaders is the lack of racial and ethnic diversity within Pennsylvania's educator workforce. In 2017–18, only 6.1 percent of Pennsylvania's classroom teachers were persons of color, compared to 33.5 percent of students of color enrolled in public schools. Declining enrollments and graduation rates of Black or African American and Hispanic/Latinx teaching candidates in Pennsylvania's postsecondary education majors over the past two decades create significant challenges for schools trying to increase and maintain racial and ethnic diversity among their professional staff.
To support the educator workforce, Pennsylvania must strengthen the ways in which it identifies, recruits, enrolls, prepares, certifies, inducts, and provides continuing professional development to its educator workforce. Educators encompass a wide range of professions, such as early childhood professionals, teachers, school and district leaders, and other school support staff professionals (e.g., counselors, social workers, psychologists, mental health professionals, speech pathologists, health professionals, and others).
Five key strategies are guiding PDE's efforts to improve its educator workforce:
- Prioritizing the identification, recruitment, and postsecondary enrollment of individuals— from high school students to adult learners pursuing career changes—to become educators;
- Promoting the identification, recruitment, and postsecondary enrollment of persons of color—from high school students to adult learners pursuing career changes— to build a more racially and ethnically diverse educator pipeline;
- Lengthening clinical preparation of educator candidates so educators receive more clinical experience and retention is improved early in their careers;
- Developing new or updating existing educator programs that are aligned with school staffing needs; and
- Updating curricula to incorporate culturally relevant and sustaining education competencies in educator preparation programs, educator induction programs, and continuing professional development programs for current and future educators.
To be successful, greater collaboration between PDE, postsecondary institutions, and LEAs will be necessary. PDE encourages LEAs to think creatively about how to utilize ARP ESSER funds to advance these strategies. Ideas that emerged through stakeholder input include:
- Prioritizing the recruitment of teachers and educators of color;
- Identifying, coaching, and mentoring students of color to consider entering the teaching profession;
- Expanding LEA-provided employer benefits to include the development of loan forgiveness programs for educators and providing financial incentives during recruitment, hiring, and promotion to educator to improve employment and retention; and
- Creating mentorship programs where seasoned educators mentor and support new educators.
This work builds on the commonwealth's ESSA Consolidated State Plan, which is centered on developing and promoting the educator preparation pipeline to ensure that the most talented and diverse individuals are prepared to enter and persevere in the teaching profession.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated systemic inequities across the state and in almost all public sectors. To diminish these systemic inequities, Pennsylvania's educator workforce pipeline must be improved so that teachers and leaders are more racially and ethnically representative of the communities in which they work. Educator diversity will go a long way toward growing PK-12 talent to ensure that all racial and ethnic groups have access to high quality educational programs regardless of income, family background, and zip code.
The educator workforce not only represents a critical sector of Pennsylvania's labor force, but educators also play a doubly important role in preparing young people to participate in the state's economy. This again calls for strong relationships between the K-12 and postsecondary sectors. Current and future educators, as well as the state, stand to gain from colleges that are responsive to the needs and issues of schools and districts. Incorporating advice and counsel from current educators will be critically important for colleges to update and create new educator preparation programs in the 21st century and beyond. By the same token, future and new educators emerging from their respective preparation programs need the support of LEAs and school leaders so they may put into practice the pedagogical competencies that they worked hard to acquire in their preparation programs.
Staffing to Support Student Needs
- Supporting and Stabilizing the Educator Workforce